Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has confirmed that the Government has started a review of EU labour laws but further insists that this will not lead to a dilution of workers’ rights in the UK. 

Earlier this week, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng stated that the Government has “absolutely no intention of lowering the standards of workers’ rights” in the UK. This was in response to the suggestion that the Government was looking to scrap some EU labour laws such as the 48 hour working week and rest breaks at work.

However, Mr. Kwarteng has now confirmed that a review of EU labour laws is currently underway.

Despite this, the minister has firmly stated that this will not lead to a “bonfire of rights”, and said the idea that the Government is trying to whittle down standards is “not at all plausible or true”.

Instead, Mr. Kwarteng argued that the Government was examining the “whole range of issues relating to our EU membership” and examining which laws the UK would keep post-Brexit.

However, this commentary was sharply criticised by Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Ed Miliband.

Mr. Miliband stated:

A government committed to maintaining existing protections would not be reviewing whether they should be unpicked. This exposes that the government’s priorities for Britain are totally wrong.

Malcolm Mason, employment partner at Keystone Law, stated that the UK government will need to be very cautious because of what it agreed to during the final negotiations of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Mr. Mason goes on to explain that either side could take counter measures, including tariffs, if they are being damaged by measures taken by the other side in subsidy policy, labour and social policy, or climate and environment policy. If used too frequently, this could also lead to a review of these provisions and the trade aspects more broadly.

He stated:

I would have expected that the UK government would be far more cautious before making any changes to UK employment and labour laws (both home-grown and EU-derived) which could be seen to reduce the level of protection for workers or fail to enforce employment rights in a manner that will have an effect on trade.

James Froud, Head of Employment at McCarthy Denning, has said:

Given the opportunity, it does seem inevitable that this Conservative government will seek to trim around the edges of EU-derived red-tape for two reasons: (1) from a political perspective, workers’ rights offer a visible – and universally relevant – platform on which the Government can demonstrate it is ‘taking-back control of our laws (and borders)’, and (2) reducing the legal burden on UK businesses may be imperative for them to thrive in a post-Brexit world.

Mr. Froud further continues to explain that any changes made to workers’ rights will need to be carefully balanced against the UK’s commitment to the Trade Agreement. Resultingly, this may mean that it may be workers’ rights that many employers choose to opt out of anyway which are amended:

I think there is going to be limited scope or appetite to resile in any material way from the existing framework of employment rights. There may be some tinkering around the edges for political reasons but I think the fundamental landscape of rights and obligations will remain in place.

Some tinkering with requirements which are, perhaps reasonably, viewed as somewhat counter-culture here in the UK seems perfectly possible.

The working time regulations present a good example of bureaucracy which is generally hated by business and not much relied upon by workers; there are a great many employees in the UK who opt-out of the 48-hour week by choice. Culling that particular social protection might be seen as an easy-win.