In a blow for hard Brexiteers, the vast majority of voters - including Conservatives - believe workers' rights should be maintained or strengthened after Brexit, not cut.
Michael Gove and other Brexiteers are pushing for a bonfire of workers’ rights after Brexit, according reports from yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. But they might find it harder than they think.
Polling by BMG Research for Left Foot Forward shows that 74% of those with a view believe current EU regulations protecting workers’ rights should be enshrined in British law.
62% of Conservatives believe existing EU protections on workers’ rights should be enshrined and protected in UK law after Brexit – suggesting May would face a backlash from her own supporters if she attempted to water them down.
Unions and progressives have seized on the findings which show Gove’s ‘liberalisation’ policies could be his undoing if he pushed them after the UK leaves the EU.
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, said:
“No one voted for Brexit to have worse rights at work – and this poll clearly shows that.
“That’s why we must have workers’ rights locked into any future trade deal with the EU. Workers in the UK can’t be left behind.”
When asked in a separate question what should happen to workers’ rights after Brexit, 37% of those with a view believe they should be strengthened, 58% believe they should be maintained, and just 4% say they should be weakened.
74% of Conservatives with a view believe workers’ rights should be maintained after Brexit, while a further 20% believe they should be strengthened.
Tim Roache, General Secretary of the GMB union, said:
“This poll shows an overwhelming majority of the public clearly want workers’ rights maintained or strengthened as we leave the EU.
“No one voted to lose their holidays or lunch break. In fact, Theresa May has promised to defend and extend workers’ rights after Brexit.
“This weak and wobbly Prime Minister must not break her pledge under pressure from her over-zealous ideologically-motivated ministers.
“As well has being an attack on British workers’ hard won freedoms, this poll shows the Tory ministers’ plot is a deeply unpopular one that will lose them yet more votes at the ballot box.”
Environment secretary Michael Gove asked the Prime Minister to scrap the European Working Time Directive, which stops staff working more than 48 hours a week, in a Cabinet meeting yesterday, according to reports in The Times and The Sun.
Scrapping the working time directive would see over seven million losing rights to paid holidays – 4.7 million of them women – with many eking out a living in insecure precarious work, according to the Unite union. Workers could also lose the right to lunch and rest breaks, and night workers could lose some health and safety protections.
Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey told Left Foot Forward:
“In key sectors of the economy such as construction, heavy industry and transport to name just few, working lives and the lives of the public would become less safe. With safety-critical rest breaks and regulations governing the maximum amount of days in row at work consigned to dustbin, tired and stressed workers are more prone to accidents.
“But there is another question Ms May must put to those cabinet members salivating for the scrapping the working time directive; how do they think that the UK can maintain a strong trading relationship with Europe while revving up for a race to the bottom?
The Green Party have attacked the push to water down EU protections.
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said:
“Weakening workers’ rights wouldn’t just be a vindictive attack on important protections, but it would be hugely unpopular too. Any moves by the government to use the Brexit process to ram through the slashing of people’s rights will be fiercely resisted.
“Workers in Britain already face chronic wage stagnation – to now attack their rights would contemptible.”
The Liberal Democrats hit out at attempts to reduce workers’ rights. Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, said:
“The EU has protected British workers from the worst attempts of exploitation. Our workforce are better off from being a part of the EU and now face an uncertain future.
“If the Tories now try and water down workers’ rights as part of their extreme Brexit then not only will they be undermining decades of progress, but they will be going against the will of the people.”
“This is just another reason why the people must be given a say on the final Brexit deal and given the chance to exit from Brexit.”
Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, said:
“It is becoming increasingly clear that a Conservative Brexit will weaken workers’ rights, deregulate the economy and slash corporate taxes.”
The poll also finds strong support for enshrining EU consumer regulations and protections, with 32% of those with a view saying they should be strengthened, and 63% maintained and 4% weakened, while 30% of the public want food and drink regulations strengthened, 63% maintained and 7% weakened.
BMG interviewed a representative sample of 1,509 adults living in Great Britain between 5th and 8th December. Data are weighted. BMG are members of the British polling council and abide by their rules. Full details here. Cross-tabs available on request.
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.
Unite leader Len McCluskey will be writing for Left Foot Forward tomorrow on the planned ‘bonfire of workers’ rights’.
As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.
We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.