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Businesses and public ‘strongly support’ keeping EU workers’ rights after Brexit

26 Feb 2018 By Nadine Buddoo

‘Research shows there is no appetite for deregulation,’ says IPPR think tank, as pressure grows for clarity on future visa rules

Brits are strongly in favour of retaining EU employment laws and regulations after the UK leaves the European Union, according to a new poll.

The survey, conducted on behalf of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), highlighted the current preference for retaining and even strengthening EU-derived working standards, including the Working Time Regulations and agency workers’ rights.

The IPPR published the poll as part of a series of briefings exploring the public’s perspective on whether the UK should continue to align with EU rules and regulations, including EU-derived employment and financial standards – or if it should seek to diverge from established legislation and distance itself from Europe’s economic and social model.

The polling revealed that 73 per cent of the public supported retaining or strengthening the Working Time Directive, while just 12 per cent favoured loosening or removing completely regulations providing equality in temporary agency worker rights. 

When it came to pay, an overwhelming 79 per cent of respondents said they favoured maintaining – or even lowering – the current threshold on the cap on bankers’ bonuses.

Across a range of consumer, financial, employment and environmental legislation, a “considerable majority” sought to keep the current standards in place, or go further than the minimum requirements specified by EU legislation, the poll showed.

In some areas, such as financial regulation, the public supported stronger standards.

According to the findings, among both ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ voters there was strong support for EU-derived standards to be maintained, and in some cases strengthened. 

Only 17 per cent of leavers supported loosening or removing the Working Time Directive, with only 5 per cent of remainers and 5 per cent of leavers supporting the loosening or removal of consumer cancellation rights. 

“Our research shows there is no appetite for deregulation post-Brexit. Regulatory divergence is both anti-worker and anti-business – so it should be no surprise that the public don’t want it,” said IPPR director Tom Kibasi.  

“Our proposal for the ‘shared market’ – where Britain and the single market would be aligned and in a customs union – remains the best way to secure our economic interests while honouring the vote to leave.”

Commenting on the results, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady agreed that remaining in the single market and a customs union was crucial to safeguarding workers’ rights.

“Brits don’t want a Brexit that undermines paid holidays, rest breaks and fair working hours,” said O’Grady.

“It looks like the best way to protect workers’ rights is to stay in the single market and customs union. No other option currently on offer gives the same permanent protection for these rights at work.

“We must not let Boris Johnson and Michael Gove use Brexit as a Trojan horse to take our workplace rights away.” 

The IPPR poll comes as British businesses and employers warn of intensifying workforce pressures from Brexit. 

Last week (23 February) Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said better access to the EU and other skilled workers was “absolutely vital” to UK productivity and employment growth, voicing concerns that businesses would be unable to compete without them.

With the challenges facing the UK’s productivity and its workforce, prime minister Theresa May remains under pressure to loosen visa rules to allow more EU workers to stay in the UK. 

According to reports, the government is currently looking at proposals that would allow EU citizens to remain in the UK if they arrive before the end of the Brexit transition period. At the same time, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is expected to set out a vision for keeping the UK in a form of customs union after Brexit.

In response to the poll, trade union Unison also highlighted concerns over the weakening of employees’ rights. “Whatever it was that motivated people in the June 2016 referendum, they certainly weren't voting for a raw deal at work,” said Unison head of policy Sampson Low.

"A good deal of the laws that protect UK working people began life in Europe and, regardless of what individuals think of the EU, it makes no sense to opt for anything that would give unscrupulous employers the upper hand. That's precisely what a wholesale weakening of employees' rights at work would do."

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