MPs have been promised a vote on any changes to workers’ rights after Brexit as Theresa May seeks Labour support to pass her deal on leaving the EU.
No 10 said Parliament would be given a say over whether to adopt any new protections introduced on the continent and to stay aligned with EU standards.
Labour MPs in Leave constituencies have been seeking assurances the UK will not fall behind EU standards after Brexit.
But the TUC said they should not be “taken in by blatant window dressing”.
The union movement said what was being offered was “flimsy procedural tweaks”.
Safeguarding workers’ rights has been one of Labour’s key demands in the Brexit negotiations.
In January, the vast majority of Labour MPs voted against the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Mrs May.
But a handful have suggested they could be persuaded to back the deal when it returns to Parliament next week – if there are guarantees employment rights deriving from the UK’s EU membership, covering areas such as paid parental leave, leave for carers and flexible working, will not be watered down.
With MPs due to vote on the PM’s deal again by 12 March, ministers have offered the following commitments.
- MPs will be given a vote on adopting future EU rules on workers’ rights
- Trade unions will be consulted in advance on any proposed future changes
- There will be a new single enforcement body to protect vulnerable and agency workers
The first EU laws to be subject to the proposed new “Commons lock” would be the Work Life Balance Directive and Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive.
The Work Life Balance Directive, due to come into force after 2020, will guarantee two months of paid leave for parents with children under eight and five days paid leave a year for carers, while all working parents of children aged up to eight will be able to request flexible working.
The Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive will set employment terms for workers from their first day and give more certainty to staff doing shifts.
The UK voted for the measures at EU meetings but ministers say it will now be up to Parliament to decide whether to implement them.
The government has already committed to enshrine the existing body of EU law on workplace standards into domestic legislation after Brexit.
Mrs May said the UK had a long record of exceeding minimum EU standards in its own domestic legislation and, after Brexit, it should be up to MPs to “decide what rules are most appropriate, rather than automatically accepting EU changes”.
“When it comes to workers’ rights, this Parliament has set world-leading standards and will continue to do so in the future, taking its own decisions working closely with trade unions and businesses,” she said.
But the TUC said legally-binding commitments on workers’ rights were missing from the withdrawal agreement and the best way for the UK to maintain existing standards was to remain in the EU single market and some form of customs union – which No 10 has rejected.
“There’s nothing to stop a future right-wing government tearing up this legislation altogether,” said its general secretary Frances O’Grady.
“MPs must not be taken in by this blatant window dressing. Our hard-won rights are still under threat.”
The GMB union said Parliament already had the right to legislate on employment rights and suggested the PM would be unable to resist demands by Tory MPs to deregulate after Brexit.
“No one should be under any illusion,” said its general secretary Tim Roache. “Support for the prime minister’s bad Brexit deal means swapping strong legal protections on workers’ rights.”
The British Chambers of Commerce said it welcomed the fact business would also be consulted, particularly over proposals to create a single body to enforce laws relating to the minimum and living wages, the rights of agency workers, and exploitation in the workplace.
“Businesses will welcome moves to strengthen enforcement measures against the tiny minority of employers out there who wilfully violate the law of the land to undercut their competitors,” said its director general Dr Adam Marshall.