The Prime Minister is to insist that the UK can continue to set “world-leading standards” that go far beyond EU rules once the country has left the bloc. She will announce that a single labour market authority is to to be set up that will take on powers from Revenue and Customs, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate. Her proposed watchdog will be able to enforce holiday payments and crackdown on underpayment for agency workers. It would also have a legal duty to consult trade unions on its work.
Mrs May will announce the new watchdog tomorrow in her latest move to try to build cross-party support for a revamped EU Withdrawal Agreement which she hopes to present to the Commons for approval in a crunch “meaningful vote” next week.
The latest olive branch to Labour backbenchers comes after the unveiling earlier this week of an extra £1.6billion in Government funds to deprived towns including many in the party’s north of England heartlands.
Ahead of the announcement, the Prime Minister said tonight: “We have as a country led the way in workers’ rights while maintaining a flexible labour market.
“The enormous success of our jobs market and the wealth of opportunities for workers across the nation have long been underpinned by the policies and standards that exceed the minimums set by the EU and that has been driven by successive governments of all parties.
“After Brexit it should be for Parliament 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.”
Mrs May will also pledge that Parliament will be given votes on future on whether the UK should match any new workplace rights being adopted within the EU.
Labour MP John Mann welcomed the Government move to boost workplace rights.
He said: “It is about aspiring to be the best in the world.”
But Tim Roache, chairman of the GMB union, said: “No one should be under any illusion – support for the Prime Minister’s bad Brexit deal means swapping strong legal protections on workers’ rights for legally unenforceable tweaks that are not worth the paper they are written on.”
In a warning to Labour MPs not to back a Brexit deal, he added: “History will not be kind to those who risk our rights on a few nods and winks from a lame duck Prime Minister.”
Mrs May will announce tomorrow that Parliament will be given the power through an expected Withdrawal Agreement Bill to consider any future changes in EU law that strengthen workers’ rights or workplace health and safety standards.
MPs and peers will be able to vote on whether new EU employment regulations should also be adopted into UK law.
Two new EU directives – covering rights to work/life balance and predictable working conditions – are due to come into force after the UK’s departure for the EU scheduled on March 29. The former introduces new rights for parents and carers including rights to paid leave while the latter will seek to provide more stability for employees working shifts.
Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “While the EU sets minimum requirements in many areas of workers’ rights, time and again the UK has led the way and chosen to exceed them. We are determined to maintain this record of leadership outside the EU.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Any guarantees about protecting existing and ensuring future employment rights must be in the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement.
“Anything less, and the promises aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
“European laws have made working in the UK safer and better. Brexit mustn’t mean UK employees become the cheapest to hire and the easiest to fire.”
Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey condemned the move as “an attempt to bribe workers to back their botched Brexit deal”.
She said: “Instead of automatically keeping up with European workers’ rights, and using that as a floor as Labour has pledged, the government is admitting that British workers could see their rights fall behind those of colleagues in Europe.
“This is utterly unacceptable and workers and trade unions will not be fooled.”