After giving mixed messages last month about a planned review of workers’ rights, the new Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has now conceded that the review “is no longer happening” in his department.
It is unclear what has led to this change of heart, but it is reasonable to assume that the level playing field provisions in the UK/EU Trade Agreement will have played a part. The Agreement includes an obligation on both sides not to “weaken or reduce, in a manner affecting trade or investment between the parties, its labour and social levels of protection below the levels in place at the end of the transition period”.
As we explain in more detail in our article here, this obligation still gives both sides some freedom of manoeuvre in relation to employment rights. However, the announcement of a review only weeks after the conclusion of the Trade Agreement was regarded as surprising by many.
As the country begins to emerge from the third national lockdown, attention is likely to shift to the Employment Bill, which was announced in the Queen’s speech in December 2019, but has not yet been published. A number of enhancements to employment rights were promised at that point, including the creation of a single body to enforce some core employment rights and introducing the right to work flexibly as default for all employment contracts.
It will be interesting to see what emerges from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the weeks and months ahead.