Paul Nowak: Government must dump the reckless Retained EU Law Bill in its entirety

'Unions won’t rest until we know our vital rights at work are safe.'


Paul Nowak is the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress

Last week, the FT reported that the Conservative government is finally having second thoughts about its disastrous plan to scrap all EU-derived rights with the Retained EU Law Bill.  

Our message to ministers is this – it’s time to dump this reckless Bill in its entirety. 

With a reported 800 laws still set to be axed at the end of the year, our fundamental workers’ rights are still under threat. 

Holiday pay, rest breaks, equal pay for women and men – these are just some of our essential rights that we could lose. 

It’s not just key worker protections that this legislation threatens – key environmental and consumer protections could go too.  

And the Bill could upend decades of case law – making it harder for workers to enforce their rights in the court – as well as creating chaos and confusion in the legal system. 

Peers will have the opportunity later this month to vote on amendments that would strip out some of the worst elements of this Bill. MPs would do well to listen to them. 

Even better, ministers could listen to what unions, business and environmental groups have been saying for months – and ditch this legislation for good. 

Unions won’t rest until we know our vital rights at work are safe. This is not the first time ministers have threatened to take a wrecking ball to key worker protections – and then been forced to u-turn under pressure.                  

But we know it’s not enough to just standstill on workplace rights – we need to drag our outdated employment laws into the 21st century.  

The P&O Ferries scandal, where nearly 800 workers were unlawfully sacked without notice, should have marked a turning point for employment rights in the UK.  

But the government sat on its hands and did nothing – all the while letting P&O Ferries get off scot-free. And then ministers began their outright assault on workers’ rights. 

Let’s not forget – this is a government that promised voters it would make Britain the best place to work in the world. It’s time to deliver on that promise. 

That means scrapping the draconian anti-strikes bill and protecting the right to strike.  

It means bringing forward long overdue laws to tackle sexual harassment – not backsliding under pressure from backbenchers.  

It means banning abusive zero-hours contracts, fire and rehire and other shady employment practices that rob workers of their dignity.  

And it means giving workers more power to drive up rights and pay in the way we know is most effective – through collective bargaining.  

This isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also a vote winner.  

The weight of public opinion is clear. British voters across the political spectrum want stronger workers’ rights. 

Labour’s new deal for working people, which the party had pledge to implement within the first 100 days of a Labour government, stands in stark contrast to the current  government’s slash and burn approach to workers’ rights.  

Key employment rights from day one in the job (including flexible working), a ban on zero hours contracts, fair pay agreements to get pay rising across whole industries, the repeal of draconian anti-union laws, union access to workplaces to talk to workers about the benefits of joining a union, mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting – all these and more could help reset the balance of power in Britain’s workplaces. 

This is a plan that would be transformative for working families and households in every corner of the country.  

Our polling shows it would be popular too. The vast majority of British voters want a ban on zero hours contracts, increased trade union access to workplaces and fair pay agreements.  

Decent rights at work will be central to winning the next election. The prime minister would do well to remember this. Rishi Sunak has no mandate to take a sledgehammer to workers’ rights – he risks a serious voter backlash if he proceeds with these reckless plans.  

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