Labour employment rights motion ignored by Tories and passed by MPs

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The House of Commons has approved, by 263 votes, Labour’s expression of support for protecting holiday pay entitlements and safe working limits after the government confirmed that it is reviewing workers’ rights.

The main opposition party forced a vote in parliament today to draw attention to Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, confirming last week that the government is looking at UK employment law.

The minister admitted wanting “to look at the whole range of issues relating to our EU membership and examine what we wanted to keep”, but claimed the government is “committed” to high standards for workers.

Ed Miliband responded by saying Kwarteng had “let the cat out of the bag”, adding: “A government committed to maintaining existing protections would not be reviewing whether they should be unpicked.”

But the government tonight continued Boris Johnson’s new policy – adopted last week for the motions on free school meals and Universal Credit – of ignoring opposition day motions and telling Tory MPs to abstain.

Conservatives argued against the motion in the chamber this evening, denying that the government would roll back workers’ rights, but ultimately none chose to express a view on the motion tonight.

The motion said all existing employment rights – the 48-hour working week, rest breaks at work and including overtime pay when calculating holiday pay – “must be maintained”, and ‘fire and rehire’ tactics should be outlawed.

Labour’s Andy McDonald told the Commons: “The government has drawn up plans to end the 48-hour working week, weaken rules around rest breaks and exclude overtime when calculating holiday pay entitlement.”

The Shadow Employment Rights Secretary added: “If the government has its way, these changes would have a devastating impact on working people. Quite simply, it will mean longer hours, low wages and less safe work.”

Kwarteng replied: “We will not reduce workers’ rights. There is no government plan to reduce workers’ rights. As a new Secretary of State, I have been extremely clear that I do not want to diminish workers’ rights.”

He specifically told MPs that “we will not row back on the 48-hour weekly working limit”, “we will not reduce the UK annual leave entitlement” and “we will not row back on legal rights to breaks at work”.

The minister also told the Commons that he shares Labour concerns about reports of ‘fire and rehire’ tactics being used. He did not answer Andy McDonald’s question on whether the government would outlaw them.

Addressing TUC Congress last year, Keir Starmer said: “’Fire and re-hire’ tactics are wrong. They’re against British values. They should also be illegal. These tactics punish good employers, hit working people hard and harm our economy.”

The Labour leader added: “I’m calling on the government to act now. Introduce legislation to end fire and re-hire, and give working people the security they need. If you do that, you will have our full support.”

Unite’s Len McCluskey has demanded that the government conducts an equalities impact assessment of any roll-back of workers’ rights and discloses how it would affect women, vulnerable and minority workers.

The TUC called on the government to “bring forward the long-awaited employment bill”, while GMB described the potential changes as “unforgivable” and said “building back better” must mean “levelling up on rights at work”.

Below is the full text of the Labour motion.

Keir Starmer
Andy McDonald
Ed Miliband
Angela Rayner
Lucy Powell
Nicholas Brown

That this House believes that all existing employment rights and protections must be maintained, including the 48-hour working week, rest breaks at work and inclusion of overtime pay when calculating some holiday pay entitlements, and calls upon the government to set out to parliament by the end of January 2021 a timetable to introduce legislation to end “fire and re-hire” tactics.

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