Lovewell’s logic: Does the UK government have workers’ interests at heart?

Over the past few weeks, there have been an increasing number of social media posts and press articles about a bill currently passing through Parliament, with which the UK government has the potential to fundamentally change employment rights.

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which reached report stage and its third reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday, places all European Union (EU) derived employment law under review. This includes, but is not limited to, rights such as access to holiday pay, maternity and parental leave, health and safety protections while pregnant, equal pay, and part- and fixed-term workers’ rights, among many others. In total, the bill addresses up to 4,000 existing laws. Unless Parliament passes legislation to protect the rights in question, these could be weakened or removed by the end of this year.

According to analysis by the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, the rights and protection of 8.6 million workers could be put at risk if the UK government presses ahead with its plans. Workers most at risk include those on part-time, fixed-term or agency worker contracts. For example, if legislation such as the current Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 were to be amended or removed, this could result in part-time workers receiving less favourable treatment than their full-time peers when it comes to areas such as pensions, benefits, pay and leave, to name but a few.

Unsurprisingly, given the high stakes, numerous organisations have publicly opposed the bill and lobbied for it to be dropped.

Paul Nowak, general secretary at the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said: “The Conservatives are about to take a wrecking ball to hard-won workers’ rights. This reckless bill puts at risk vital workplace protections. like holiday pay, safe working hours and protection from discrimination. These protections are all essential; not a nice to have. But without action, they will fall off the statute book by the end of 2023.

“That why unions, business, and environmental groups have all come out in opposition to this legislation. Even the government’s own independent experts have dubbed the bill not fit for purpose.”

Of course, until a final decision is made by the UK government, the true impact of the bill is still a matter of speculation and concern, which is inevitably creating some uncertainty for both employers and employees.

Even if it does pass in its current form, would this really mean employers would follow suit in removing or weakening employment rights and protections for their workforces? While some may find it tempting to do so in order to save financially in the short-term given the difficult economic environment, could they really afford to do so in the long-term? There would be an inevitable knock-on effect on the attraction and retention of employees, not to mention the hit on corporate reputation. Ultimately, employers which ensure their workers are no worse off are likely to be those that reap the rewards in the war for talent.

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One thing is certain: all eyes will be on this bill as its journey continues.

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Tweet: @DebbieLovewell