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Minister quizzed

Workers’ rights ‘will be reviewed but not eroded’

Kwasi Kwarteng: ‘no fall in standards

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has admitted the UK government is reviewing workers’ rights following the country’s exit from the EU.

However, he insisted there would be no fall in standards despite last week denying such plans.

There has been concern among unions and opposition politicians that the government will erode benefits won over many years, including the 48-hour working week.

Labour’s business spokesman Ed Miliband claimed the Government wanted to take a “wrecking ball” to these hard-won rights while the SNP’s Drew Hendry claimed Mr Kwarteng wanted a “race to the bottom in standards”.

Mr Kwarteng, who stepped into the job last week when Alok Sharma moved to take control of the COP26 agenda, told MPs there would be no “bonfire of rights” but confirmed there will be a review of EU labour laws.

“The view was that we wanted to look at the whole range of issues relating to our EU membership and examine what we wanted to keep, if you like,” explained Mr Kwarteng.


But he told MPs: “The idea that we are trying to whittle down standards, that’s not at all plausible or true.

“We are absolutely looking at safeguarding employment rights. I know there’s been stories in the newspapers that there’s going to be some sort of bonfire of rights. This could not be further from the truth and I feel like I have to rebut this very clearly.”

Appearing before the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee he said: “I’m very struck as I look at EU economies how many EU countries – it’s about 17 or 18 – have essentially opted out of the working time directive.

“So, even by just following that we are way above the average European standard and I want to maintain that. We can be a high-wage, high-employment economy, a very successful economy, and that’s what we should be aiming for.”

However, Mr Miliband said: “After dismissing media reports and promising the Government has no plans to rip up workers’ rights, Kwasi Kwarteng has now let the cat out of the bag and admitted that they are conducting a review of those rights, including opting out of the 48-hour week, which protects workers in key sectors like the NHS, road haulage and airlines from working excessive hours.

“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.

“Neither workers nor business want Ministers to take a wrecking ball to the hard-won rights of working people and families.” 

Mr Hendry, the SNP’s business spokesman, said: “If the Tories were intent on protecting workers’ rights then they would simply maintain those that were already enshrined in EU law – rather than ploughing ahead with a review and selecting what they want to keep.

“The harsh reality is that the Tories’ empty pledge to protect rights is, as feared, nothing more than smoke and mirrors with this review paving the way for an assault on protections that millions of workers depend on.”

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