Worker protections enshrined in EU law — including the 48-hour week — would be ripped up under plans being drawn up by the government as part of a post-Brexit overhaul of UK labour markets. The package of deregulatory measures is being put together by the UK’s business department with the approval of Downing Street. It has not yet been agreed by ministers— or put to the cabinet — but select business leaders have been sounded out on the plan.
The proposed shake-up of regulations from the “working time directive” will likely to spark outrage among Britain’s trade union leaders. The main areas of focus are on ending the 48-hour working week, tweaking the rules around rest breaks at work and not including overtime pay when calculating some holiday pay entitlements, said people familiar with the plans. The government also wants to remove the requirement of businesses to log the detailed, daily reporting of working hours, saving an estimated £1bn.
The move would potentially mark a clear divergence from EU labour market standards but the UK would only face retaliation from Brussels under the terms of its new post-Brexit trade treaty if the EU could demonstrate the changes had a material impact on competition.
“Workers in the UK are the primary beneficiaries of the very positive judgments of the European courts,” said an official at the Trades Union Congress, adding that any attempt to “whittle down and narrow” the interpretation of European law “is a concern because it amounts to a diminution of rights”. A change in the calculation of holiday pay could be “a significant monetary loss” for a low-paid worker often forced into overtime to make ends meet, the TUC official said.
In a call with 250 leading business figures earlier this month, prime minister Boris Johnson urged industry to get behind plans for future regulatory liberalisation after Brexit — to the delight of many free marketeers in his cabinet.
Matt Kilcoyne, deputy head of the free market Adam Smith Institute, welcomed the proposals — saying the current “one size fits all” 48-hour rule was a “straitjacket on the economy”.
Colin Leckey, partner in employment law at Lewis Silkin, said employers would welcome the UK rejecting new European case law requiring the detailed, daily reporting of working hours. However, any move to overturn recent European case law on holiday pay — which stipulates that sales commissions and overtime must be taken into account in its calculation — would be more contentious.