Just a week after announcing a review of workers’ rights following the UK’s departure from the EU, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has confirmed that this review is no longer underway.

Kwasi Kwarteng, Business Secretary, has now confirmed that a review of workers’ rights is no longer underway, stating that the “review is no longer happening with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)”.

Mr. Kwarteng further stated that he made it “very clear to officials that [he is not] interested in watering down workers’ rights”.

This comes after concerns that the review of labour laws would lead to a dilution of employees’ rights at work in the UK. Most notably, the legislation that was expected to be impacted included the 48 hour working week, rest breaks at work, the calculation of holiday pay and removing the requirement of businesses to log working hours.

However, when discussing the decision to cancel the review, Mr. Kwarteng stated that Brexit gives the UK “the opportunity to have higher standards and a higher growth economy”.

Frances O’ Grady, TUC General Secretary, commented on this decision, stating:

[The TUC] will be keeping a close watch. Ministers shouldn’t have been looking at weakening hard-won rights in the first place. The Prime Minister must deliver on his promise to enhance protections at work, starting with banning zero-hours contracts.

Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, also welcomed this decision:

It is shameful that the Government even tried. We need to strengthen workers’ rights and that starts with outlawing firing and rehiring.

Malcolm Mason, employment partner at Keystone Law, reflected on what this U-turn means for employees:

The government’s announcement that a controversial review of EU-derived labour laws will now no longer take place, must be seen as a recognition that the TCA places significant restrictions on any such measures.

Employers should therefore expect that in the short to midterm there is unlikely to be any substantial changes to the majority of the UK’s EU-derived labour laws other than perhaps, some tinkering around the edges.

Sarah Evans, Partner at Constantine Law, said:

The planned review was controversial in some quarters because it fuelled concerns about diluting workers’ rights following Brexit, notwithstanding the mantra behind it, that Brexit brings an opportunity to have higher standards and a higher growth economy.

Dismantling rights, however bestowed (by the UK or the EU) seems counter intuitive to an expressed desire to raise standards. It is difficult to untangle the politics from the law here – many saw the review as an empty political stunt, because there are not many rights from the EU that cause concern to many employers.  For some employers running particular  businesses in an increasingly harsh economic and trading landscape, whether down to Brexit, Covid or anything else, a relaxation of their financial obligations may be welcome, but those rules tend not to be EU rules.

Most employers recognise the value of sensible employment laws, and that their key assets remain their workers, and do not want to go backwards when our economy, and rebuilding it, really does depend on entrepreneurial and agile practices, and buy in from those doing the work.