The leader of the country’s leading union, Unite, is demanding that the government discloses the full impact of any roll-back of workers’ rights on the country's millions of women, vulnerable and minority workers.

Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey has written to Kwasi Kwarteng, the minister responsible for the 'review', to demand not only that an equalities impact assessment of any changes is undertaken and published in full, but also that the secretary of state sets out clearly how he intends to engage trade unions in the review process.

Unite has described efforts to cut rights as a 'bad bosses' charter', a gift to rogue employers which will force workers to work longer hours, lower pay and seriously undermine family life.

The union's call comes ahead of a debate in the House of Commons today (Monday 25 January) where Labour will seek to force the Conservative government to come clean on the real motive behind its 'review', which is thought to embrace working time, overtime and holiday pay.

Kwasi Kwarteng initially denied that any consideration of workers’ rights was underway, before being forced to confirm its existence. The review also comes after over a year of emphatic promises from the prime minister that his government would not reverse workers’ rights but instead would ensure that they were a 'beacon' to the world.

Stating that Unite will vigorously oppose any efforts to diminish the rights of UK workers, Len McCluskey says that there is no appetite from employers for the review and that the upheaval legal changes will bring is the wrong priority for a country that needs stability, economic investment and an industrial strategy to recover post-pandemic.   

In his letter, Len McCluskey writes: "Unite is engaged with some 38,000 employers around the country, of all shapes and sizes, on a daily basis and I can confirm categorically that altering the basic legal rights of their workers is not their priority. Instead, they tell us that they want stability, investment, improved skills across the workforce and the promised industrial strategy to lead to active government engagement with them in the support and renewal of UK industry.

"We oppose any efforts by the government to diminish the rights of the workers of this country, who have committed themselves fully to public service during this year of crisis despite the appalling behaviour of some employers. 

"This crisis in one way has been predictable; it has seen opportunistic employers including British Airways, Heathrow Airport Limited and the Go Ahead group move to rewrite contracts, reduce wages and extend working hours. The ease with which they can do so, confident in there being no reproach whatsoever from the government, underlines that workers in this country are already the easiest to mistreat and make redundant among the European economies.

"A responsible government, committed to levelling up and arresting inequality, should be moving to prevent such abuses, not making them more likely.

"I would also urge you not to make the mistake of previous Conservative administrations of refusing to engage with the trade unions of this country. Any moves that divide employers from their workforces, those who will feel the full effect of any subsequent government policies, only serve to sow the seeds of distrust and concern, which would be extremely unhelpful at any time but particularly so while the country faces profound enormous health and economic challenges that are best met collectively and positively, not with working people fearing attack.

"I urge that you move swiftly to involve the trade unions in your advisory panel and accord them the same stakeholder status and full engagement as that given to business.

"I also call upon your department to undertake a full equality impact assessment of any proposed changes to workers' rights. As the row over Universal Credit reminds us, there are millions of working poor in this country and they are disproportionately women, black and Asian ethnic minorities, disabled and young workers. 

"Attacks on working time, are highly likely to make the lives of these workers and that of their families even harder. Longer working hours are certain to lead to pay cuts, putting many below the legal minimum wage. Longer working hours also put health and safety at risk because exhausted workers are unsafe workers, and will place rest and family time under immense stress. These consequences must be fully considered and be fully and publicly disclosed.

"Job insecurity, low skills and low wages are endemic in this country. For our people and economy to thrive, I would urge that government focuses its efforts on addressing these very real challenges, not on divisive, potentially discriminatory and fear-inducing plans to revise workers’ rights, for which there is no clamour."

ENDS

Notes to editors:

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.