Frances O'Grady at the Select Committee.
Brexit campaigners push for a bonfire of regulations (and rights)
MPs from the cross-party Exiting the EU Select Committee today heard evidence on how Brexit could affect the world of work, from the TUC’s Frances O’Grady, CBI’s Carolyn Fairbairn and former BCC Director turned Brexit campaigner, John Longworth.
We’ve heard a lot of promises in recent months from the PM and minsters that our employment rights will be safe after we leave the EU. When Labour’s Hilary Benn asked what she thought of these, Frances displayed diplomacy that should qualify her for a place on the Brexit negotiating team:
“As a trade unionist I like promises; I prefer guarantees. And of course the Prime Minister also promised not just to protect rights but to enhance them, including for example putting workers on boards.”
And as Frances said, there’s an important dimension to this that some commentators have overlooked. A promise just to keep things as they are isn’t good enough.
Rights in the EU will keep developing after we leave – for example there are EU proposals under discussion on family friendly rights and on stopping employers using migrant workers to undercut local working terms.
Unless the UK commits to complying with new working rights in Europe, we could see British workers fall further and further behind their European counterparts.
This wasn’t what some members of the committee wanted to hear though, and former Conservative ministers Michael Gove and John Whittingdale both pushed CBI Chair Carolyn Fairbairn to say which EU regulations she thought British businesses would be keenest to see the back of. As Whittingdale asked:
“To what extent has the CBI examined the opportunities which may exist to reduce the burden on business and are you working on an analysis to present to government for potential repeal or reduction?”
She was luckily having none of this, saying that her members were rather more concerned about the risk of losing access to EU markets than they were about complying with EU regulations.
John Longworth was keener to see an end to EU rules though, claiming “opportunities for deregulation are legion” and that Brexit was a chance to cut 10% of regulations and reduce costs to business.
He cited rules that prohibit perfumers from using ingredients that haven’t been certified safe (sadly ruling out all those “to die for” scents), and truck drivers who apparently are upset they can’t be made to drive for more than 48 hours in a week if they don’t want to (though possibly not as upset as the people driving next to their lorries on the motorway when they’ve just pulled an all-nighter).
It’s not hard to work out the impact that a rush to deregulation would have on our rights. EU regulations mainly cover employment rights, environmental standards and consumer protections. If we want to trade with the EU, we can’t water down consumer standards in our products, or their environmental impact, so it’s UK workers’ rights that would make up a big chunk of any “savings” to business.
At the TUC, we’ve no interest in seeing the UK lose employment protections when neighbouring countries keep and improve theirs – turning us into what Frances called “the bargain basement capital of Europe”. It’s a position responsible employers tend to agree with.
If you agree and would like to see the PM’s promises on rights become guarantees, no matter what her backbenchers like Gove and Whittingdale try to cut, can you please help us by adding your name to our petition?