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TRADE unions have reacted angrily to revelations that the government is planning a fresh assault on workers’ rights.
A chorus of protest followed a report in today’s Financial Times that a “post-Brexit” package of “deregulatory measures” is being prepared by the Department for Business “with the approval of Downing Street,” although it has not yet been discussed by the Cabinet or agreed by ministers.
The package was said to include scrapping the 48-hour cap on weekly working hours, “tweaking” rules on rest breaks and discounting overtime when calculating holiday pay.
The GMB union warned that any attack on workers’ rights would be “confronted” and that it wouldn’t simply stand by if the government forced workers to do longer hours and lose holiday pay.
“This government made promises to protect and not weaken workers’ rights. If ministers are serious about building back better, then that means levelling up on rights at work,” said GMB acting general secretary Warren Kenny.
He added that “taking a sledgehammer to workers’ rights while workers are facing down a pandemic in the middle of the worst economic crisis in all of our lifetimes” would be “unforgiveable.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey described any dilution of rights as a “huge mistake” and said that “no decent government would pick this moment to launch an attack on the rights of its citizens.
“In our time of need, it has been working people who have stepped up and kept this country safe and supported.
“The vulnerable and low-waged have paid the highest price in this pandemic. Respect these workers – do not take away their basic rights.”
Paul O’Connell of the Leave-Fight-Transform campaign (LeFT) emphasised that workers could rely only on their own organisation to defend and extend their rights.
Dr O’Connell said: “In or out of the EU, Tories will attack workers’ rights – let’s not forget that David Cameron’s 2016 Trade Union Act was the single biggest attack on workers’ rights in Britain for decades.
“The challenge for the whole labour and trade union movement in 2021 is to build strong, fighting unions, empowering new members, conscious of their role in the class struggle. This is the sole source of workers’ rights and the only defence we’ve ever had.”
Institute of Employment Rights (IER) director Carolyn Jones pointed out that the working-time regulations form part of Britain’s health-and-safety framework and said: “Only an idiot would propose undermining that framework in the midst of a global health crisis.”
Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said: “These proposals are not about cutting red tape for businesses but ripping up vital rights for workers. They should not even be up for discussion.”
He challenged the government to rule out the changes and pledged that Labour would “fight tooth and nail against them” if ministers took that path.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng issued the standard denial that there were any plans to dilute workers’ rights, bizarrely claiming that Britain “has one of the best workers’ rights records in the world.”
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