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  • Frances O’Grady writes to Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng urging government to make good on its promise to protect and enhance rights post-Brexit
  • One year on since the UK-EU deal came into force, UK risks going backwards – not forwards – on labour rights, O’Grady warns

The TUC has today (Thursday) called on the government to change tack following Lord Frost’s departure and finally deliver on its promise to protect and enhance workers’ rights post-Brexit, one year after the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement came into place.

Writing to Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng in their ministerial capacities, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady calls for fresh assurances on workers’ rights – warning that, if pursued, Frost’s review into EU retained law poses a serious threat to hard-won workers’ rights.

O’Grady also notes that the Frost review would inhibit the Prime Minister’s stated objective to “protect and enhance workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU, making Britain the best place in the world to work.” 

Before his resignation, Lord Frost made a statement in Parliament on his proposed review to overhaul the substance and status of laws derived from the EU – many of which underpin important workers’ rights.

Frost set out his intention to use an “accelerated process” to repeal retained EU law. The TUC has warned that this could see some essential rights removed or watered down without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

The TUC previously commissioned the legal help of Michael Ford QC to examine the rights at risk post-Brexit, including those strengthened by EU law. The rights include, among others:

  • Holiday pay
  • Equal pay for women and men
  • Parental leave
  • Equal treatment for part-time workers

While calling for a reaffirmed commitment from ministers to protect labour rights, O’Grady notes previous comments made by the business secretary that “there is no government plan to reduce workers' rights” which he made following the scrapped BEIS-led review into EU derived rights.

Employment bill

In the letter, O’Grady also calls on the government to finally publish its long-promised employment bill at the Queen’s Speech next year to upgrade workers’ rights.

The government has failed to bring forward an employment bill despite first promising to do so more than two years ago.

O'Grady warns that without new legislation brought forward, the UK risks falling behind its EU counterparts on labour rights - pointing to new EU commission proposals to clamp down on exploitative practices in platform work.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“One year on since the UK-EU deal came into force, we risk going backwards – not forwards – on rights in the workplace.

“While our EU counterparts push game-changing new rights for platform workers, our government is flirting with a review which endangers important workers’ rights and legal principles.

“Holiday pay, equal pay for men and women, parental leave and equal treatment for part-timers are just a few of the rights underpinned by retained EU law. These are not a nice-to-have – they are essential.

“If pursued, the Frost review could see these rights removed or watered down without proper scrutiny. It could make it harder for workers to enforce their rights in the court. And it could create chaos and confusion in the legal system.

“Enough is enough. It’s time this government delivered on its promise to protect and enhance workers’ rights post-Brexit. That means bringing forward the long-awaited employment bill to end exploitative work practices like zero-hours contracts.”

Editors note

Dear Kwasi and Liz

Protection of workers’ rights within the review of Retained EU Law

I am writing to you in regard to your respective ministerial responsibilities for employment rights and Brexit. 

Last year, it was revealed in the media that that the business department was consulting business leaders on a review of EU derived workers’ rights, from working time to equal rights for temporary workers. The TUC and unions are clear - these rights are vital to protecting working families’ job security and living standards – which is why we made our concerns known at the time.

Once the employment rights review became public, the business secretary announced that these rights would be retained post Brexit, stating that "I do not want there to be any doubt about my or the government's intentions in this area. "We will not row back on the 48-hour weekly working limit derived from the working time directive, we will not reduce the UK annual leave entitlement, which is already much more generous than the EU minimum standard, we will not row back on legal rights to breaks at work. I will say it again, there is no government plan to reduce workers' rights."

However, in his statement of 9 December, former Brexit minister Lord Frost announced the launch of two new reviews into the substance and status of retained EU law (REUL) in the UK. It is understood that departments would be required to participate in this review in regard to those elements of REUL that apply to their specific departmental remit and responsibilities.

We would be interested to know the status of this review following Lord Frost’s resignation from the government. We have serious concerns that any such review could risk hard-won workers’ rights – many of which are derived from retained EU law - and would impact on the Prime Minister’s stated objective to “protect and enhance workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU, making Britain the best place in the world to work”.

We would therefore welcome assurances that you both remain committed to previous guarantees you have given that there is no plan to reduce workers’ rights. And, to this end, that the Government still intends to publish an employment bill in the next Queen’s Speech so as to meet its commitment to upgrade workers’ rights following Brexit. This is becoming increasingly important given the risk that we are falling behind our EU counterparts on workers’ rights just one year on from the implementation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), as seen with proposed new EU regulations on platform and gig economy workers.

We look forward to continuing dialogue with you on this agenda, through engagement with your departments and the role that we anticipate playing in the Domestic Advisory Group that is being established to monitor the operation of the TCA.


Yours sincerely,

Frances O’Grady

General Secretary

-Workers’ rights from Europe: the impact of Brexit  

- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.

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