It was only last week that Kwasi Kwarteng (the UK Government's Business Secretary), stated that the Government will begin looking at the possibility of "scrapping" some EU labour laws that the UK has previously been bound by.
From 31 December 2020, under The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the UK is essentially free to distance itself from EU employment laws as it chooses, save where any divergence from EU employment law has a material impact on trade or investment.
It is no surprise, then, that the UK Government would announce that it would look to review the legislation derived from European regulations. This was reported to include various changes to the Working Time Regulations 1998, such as abolition of the 48-hour maximum working week, entitlement to rest breaks, and calculation of holiday pay. These, and other matters, were to form part of a Government consultation with business leaders.
What would this mean for workers' rights?
Whilst accompanied by a promise from Kwarteng that despite any changes made there would be no dilution of workers' rights as a result, the move attracted immediate criticism from other political parties and trade unions. Their view was that it would be difficult to reconcile removing or amending legislation without impacting rights.
One week later, it would now appear that there has been a change of heart. Kwarteng has yesterday been quoted stating that the proposed review is no longer happening and that the UK Government is "not interested in watering down workers’ rights".
It is, of course, still possible that there will be a review undertaken at some future date, but for the moment it appears that exiting employment legislation will be maintained. It will be also interesting to see whether other issues raised by the opposition parties in Parliament when criticising this potential review are taken any further. This included the ability to "fire and re-hire" employees on lesser terms and conditions and seeking a change to the Employment Rights Act 1996 to prevent or limit this.
There, is however, no indication that there is any appetite within the UK Government to review such legislation and, particularly in the current pandemic, any change could not be readily envisaged swiftly, even if there was a willingness to do so.
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