UK promises safeguards on workers’ rights after Brexit

FILE PHOTO: British PM May speaks at the European Council headquarters in Brussels
FILE PHOTO: British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

March 5, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May will on Wednesday offer parliament a greater say over changes to workers’ rights laws after Brexit, seeking to win the support of wavering lawmakers as she prepares to put her EU exit deal to the test next week.

Less than three weeks until Britain leaves the European Union, the world’s fifth-largest economy has yet to reach a deal on how to untangle more than four decades of legal, economic and political integration.

May will announce plans to write her promise of improved consultation over post-Brexit workers’ rights into legislation and offer lawmakers, businesses and trade unions a say on whether Britain should match any future EU law on the issue.

“After Brexit, it should be for parliament to decide what rules are most appropriate, rather than automatically accepting EU changes,” May said in a statement issued by her office.

“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.”

The move is seen as an appeal to lawmakers of the opposition Labour Party, seeking their backing at a vote next week when May will ask parliament to approve a revised exit deal. Her first deal was roundly rejected on Jan. 15.

To win the March 12 vote, May’s minority government will likely need to rely on the support of rebel Labour lawmakers, some of whom are prepared to ignore their own party’s instructions to block the prime minister’s deal.

Many Labour lawmakers represent areas that voted heavily in favor of Brexit in Britain’s 2016 referendum and fear their party’s position to support a second referendum could alienate their constituents.

Labour – which has gone further than May by saying it would automatically keep pace with new EU laws on workers’ rights – described the government’s offer as a “pathetic bribe”.

“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,” said Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s business policy chief.

(Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison)

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