Workers’ rights under threat as business secretary takes aim at EU labour laws

Workers’ rights under threat as business secretary takes aim at EU labour laws

The measures under consultation include relaxation of the Working Time Directive (WTD), which sets down the 48-hour working week, overtime pay and rest breaks.

Shadow business secretary, Ed Miliband, accused the government of trying to take a “wrecking ball” to hard-won workers’ rights. Kawrteng denied Miliband’s remarks, instead stated that he wanted to “protect and improve” labour law.

The minister stated to business leaders that in the aftermath of the Brexit deal, the UK now has the option of improving upon legislation originating from EU law. Difficulties encountered during time within the EU could now be rectified. “The idea that we are trying to whittle down standards, that’s not at all plausible or true”, he affirmed, addressing concerns from MPs.

Kwarteng tweeted on 14 January 2021, “We are not going to lower the standards of workers’ rights. The UK has one of the best workers’ rights records in the world – going further than the EU in many areas. We want to protect and enhance workers’ rights going forward, not row back on them.”

Kwarteng explained to MPs how several EU countries had also opted out of the WTD, and even following that the UK is “above the average European standard and I think we can be a high-level, high-employment economy, a very successful economy, and that is what we should aim for.”

Miliband questioned the government’s priorities and warned that relaxing the 48-hour working week would harm workers in key sectors, including those working for the NHS, transport and airlines from working excessive hours.

James Reed, president and chairman of the UK’s largest recruitment firm ‘Reed’ urged the government to turn its attention to unemployment and improving conditions for lower-paid workers. He told the BBC Today that as unemployment continues to rise the government should prioritise reforming ‘the apprenticeship levy, which is clearly failing…and also National Insurance on jobs. It’s a tax on jobs – how can that be improved? Especially to help the low-paid back into work.”

Under the post-Brexit deal with the EU, the UK agreed to conditions that maintain fair competition, or a level playing field, between two sides. Relaxing the WTD runs the risks relations with the EU.

Joao Vale de Almeida, the EU’s ambassador to the UK warned on that if the government went too far with deregulation then Brussels could retaliate.

“It will be for us to judge the extent to which it violates this principle of ‘level playing field’ and if that is the case there are mechanisms in the treaty, in the agreement, that allows us to discuss and eventually to come to an understanding – if no understanding there are retaliation measures that can be applied on both sides,” said Vale de Almeida.

Key Employment law update for 2021

Key Employment law update for 2021

Right to Work in the UK

The Freedom of Movement that allowed EU citizens to live and work in the UK ended on 31 December 2020. EU citizens living in the UK before 31 December 2020 may apply under the EU Settlement Scheme for settled or pre-settled status to continue living and working in the UK. The submission deadline for the scheme is 30 June 2021.

A new immigration points-based system was introduced on 1 January 2021 that requires EU and non-EU citizens to meet a specific set of requirements to live and work in the UK. However, this does not apply when hiring EU citizens or Irish citizens eligible for the EU Settlement Scheme. Employers will need to apply for a ‘sponsor licence’ from the Home office to hire non-UK citizens that are ineligible for the EU Settlement Scheme. This is a significant change for employers recruiting from outside the UK

IR35 to be extended to the private sector  

Reforms to the way IR35 that is intended to identify contractors and companies will be implemented in the private sector on 6 April 2021. The UK tax legislation was previously delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The key change is that the end client will be responsible to determine the employment status of contractors.

  1. National living wage and national minimum wage increase

The national living wage (NLW) and national minimum wage (NMW) will increase on 1 April 2021.

For the first time NLW will be extended to the 23 and 24 year olds. The new rates are detailed as follows:

  • 23 years old and over – £8.91 per hour
  • 21 and 22 years old – £8.36 per hour
  • 18 to 20 years old – £6.56 per hour
  • Under 18 years old – £4.62 per hour
  • Apprentice rate – £4.30 per hour

End of the Job Coronavirus Retention Scheme

The Job Coronavirus Retention Scheme was extended until 30 April 30 2021 due to the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The government has not announced whether a further extension will be available. 

Gender pay gap reporting resumes 

The Gender Pay Gap Regulations require employers with 250 or more employees to publish data on their gender pay gap each year. The gender pay gap report was suspended in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic but will resume on this year. The submission deadline for public sector organisations is 31 March 2021 and 4 April 2021 for private companies and charities. 

Job retention bonus scheme 

The Job Retention Bonus is a one-off £1,000 payment to employers, for each furloughed worker who has remained in continuous employment until 31 January 2021. Eligible employers will be able to claim the bonus between 15 February 2021 and 31 March 2021. The bonus is taxable but it does not have to be repaid.  

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