U-turn by the Government following Opposition Day Debate on Employment Rights

The second Opposition Day debate held on Monday 25 January 2021 was on employment rights. Earlier this month it was reported by the Financial Times that the Government was seeking to bring forward a package of deregulatory measures to make amendments to worker protections enshrined in the EU “working time directive”. 

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) confirmed to the BEIS Select Committee on Tuesday 19 January that his department was reviewing which EU-derived employment protections to keep. In the middle of a pandemic and an economic recession, Ministers should be focused on securing our economy and protecting jobs and businesses, not removing the hard-won rights of working people.

The Opposition motion also called for the Government to outlaw fire and rehire tactics where an employer fires an employee before offering to re-employ them on reduced terms and conditions. At a time of high unemployment, employees are being forced to accept reduced terms and conditions through fire and rehire. Unless action is taken to protect the economy and workers’ rights, there will be a race to the bottom.

The Opposition motion was as follows:

That this House believes that all existing employment rights and protection must be maintained, including the 48-hour working week, rest breaks at work and inclusion of overtime pay when calculating some holiday pay entitlements, and requires the Government to set out to parliament by the end of January 2021 a timetable to introduce legislation to end “fire and re-hire” tactics.

The Government abstained on this motion and it passed by Ayes: 260 – Noes: 0. 

Two days after this vote, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy confirmed in a television interview that his Department’s review of employment protections was no longer going ahead. During Business Questions on Thursday 28 January 2021, I asked for the Secretary of State to come to the House to announce this U-turn. Changes in Government policy should be announced in Parliament, not the media.