Working people want their rights protected after Brexit – so why won’t ministers give a guarantee?

Published date
20 Feb 2018
Regardless of whether people voted leave or remain in the EU referendum, no one voted for worse rights at work.

That finding from our original polling in 2016 has been backed up today by a new poll commissioned by the IPPR, which found that twice as many people want EU rights at work strengthened as weakened, and that over 70% want such rules strengthened or maintained.

The support for the Working Time Directive, which guarantees paid holidays, rest breaks and a sensible working week and – perhaps more surprisingly because it covers far fewer workers - the Temporary Agency Workers Directive, is slightly stronger among Remain voters than Leave voters. But essentially, regardless of how people voted, they want to keep the rights that union campaigning secured after we leave the EU.

The prime minister and several of her Cabinet colleagues have promised to protect those rights after we leave, and Brexit Minister David said the same this morning in Vienna. But they have refused to commit to keeping up with future improvements in EU workplace rights, and have avoided all attempts to turn their promises into unbreakable guarantees.

The best way to ensure that such promises can’t be broken (like the Prime Minister’s promise to put workers on boards) would be for the UK to stay in the single market, which is why the TUC has consistently argued that it should not be ruled out unless some other way of protecting rights at work is proposed. But the government has made membership of the single market one of its many red lines in the Brexit negotiations.

The government has also voted down attempts to protect workplace rights in the EU Withdrawal Bill which is starting its Committee stages in the House of Lords today. Amendments to require Ministers to introduce primary legislation if they plan to reduce workers’ rights have been rejected, which leaves such rights open to deregulation by Ministerial diktat.

One key reason for this is, of course, that the Cabinet also contains people like Michael Gove and Boris Johnson who would like to attack our rights at work as soon as we leave the EU. They briefed Sunday papers before Christmas that they would be arguing for this in Cabinet, and have yet to be slapped down by our enfeebled prime minister.

You can still join the TUC campaign against their assault on the Working Time Directive.

And outside the Cabinet there are even more vultures circling, like Jacob Rees-Mogg, or Leave Means Leave chair John Longworth who wrote in the Times last week that the Working Time Directive, Temporary Agency Workers Directive and the imaginary Ergonomics Directive should all be targeted after Brexit.

The IPPR’s poll shows how out of touch these people are with what working people think. Just 6% want the Working Time Directive scrapped and 8% weakened; and only 4% want fairness for temporary agency workers scrapped and 8% weakened. Nearly three quarters (73% in both cases) want the directives made stronger or kept the same.

Compared with the narrowness of the vote to leave the EU, those massive majorities suggest that politicians would be well advised to put such issues beyond doubt, rather than relying on promises alone.

Refusing to do so can only mean they have something else in mind. Would you trust Johnson or Gove with your rights at work after Brexit?