Unite calls post-Brexit workers’ rights plans ‘meaningless’ and ‘disappointing’

Prime Minister Theresa May’s new proposals to protect workers’ rights after Brexit are “meaningless” and “deeply disappointing”, Unite has said.

Employees Rights on an office table.

Announcing the details today (March 6), the PM claimed the proposals would deliver “the largest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation”.

The measures include giving MPs a vote on whether future changes to EU workers rights’ and health and safety laws should be matched in the UK.

The vote on workers’ rights would become part of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which must be ratified by MPs if the government’s Brexit deal with the EU is to succeed.

The move is being viewed as an attempt by the government to persuade opposition MPs into voting for May’s Brexit deal.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the measures are “flimsy procedural tweaks” and warned MPs not to be fooled by “this blatant window dressing”.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the proposals demonstrated that ministers had ignored the concerns of trade unions.

“After all the talk and media briefing preceding this announcement, it is deeply disappointing that the government appears not to have listened to any of the concerns expressed by trade unions,” McCluskey said.

“The fact remains that workers in the UK have among the poorest protections in Europe, thanks to opt-outs by successive Westminster governments. This announcement changes that woeful situation not one jot.”

Unite also criticised the government’s proposals to create a single labour enforcement body as part of its “workers’ rights” package.

Instead of merging enforcement and inspection roles carried out by a number of organisations, Unite said the government should introduce universal licensing of all employment agencies and gangmasters involved in recruiting and hiring out temporary labour.

Currently, licensing only exists in agriculture, food processing and shellfish collection.

In sectors that are vulnerable to exploitation where licensing does not apply – such as construction, hospitality and the care sector – no action can be taken until exploitation has occurred.

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said, “If the government were serious about tackling the exploitation of vulnerable workers they would be extending licensing to keep rogue employers out of all sectors.

“It would be providing union access to workplaces as a right, and it would be recognising the importance of sectoral collective bargaining in setting and raising standards.

“The government needs to ensure upholding workers’ rights is a first priority across all enforcement agencies. It cannot be an afterthought.”