Tory Minister says EU labour laws on the brink of being SCRAPPED amid workers rights fear

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The Business Secretary told MPs at the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee EU legislation on labour laws such as the 48 hour working week could be axed. Mr Kwarteng insisted there would be no dilution of workers rights, despite accusations from his shadow contemporary Ed Miliband Conservatives would take a “wrecking ball” to laws enshrining them.

Mr Kwarteng said the Government is looking to “protect and enhance” labour law, and has said to businesses leaders there is now an opportunity to reform regulations after Brexit.

Speaking to MPs at the committee, he said: “The view was that we wanted to look at the whole range of issues relating to our EU membership and examine what we wanted to keep, if you like.

“The idea that we are trying to whittle down standards, that’s not at all plausible or true.”

“We are absolutely looking at safeguarding employment rights. I know there’s been stories in the newspapers that there’s going to be some sort of bonfire of rights. This could not be further from the truth and I feel like I have to rebut this very clearly.”

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The minister later insisted to the committee “about 17 or 18” EU countries have “essentially opted out of the working time directive”.

Mr Kwarteng added: “Even by just following that we are way above the average European standard and I want to maintain that.

“We can be a high-wage, high-employment economy, a very successful economy, and that’s what we should be aiming for.”

Four EU countries have an opt-out of the time directive that applies to all sectors, along with the UK, and 11 other countries have limited opt-outs for specific sectors like doctors and medical staff.

Six days ago, Mr Kwarteng rubbished a Financial Times report which held British workers’ rights were “at risk” if EU labour laws are scrapped.

But following his comments to the committee, Mr Miliband lashed out at plans to deregulate.

He said: “After dismissing media reports and promising the Government has no plans to rip up workers’ rights, Kwasi Kwarteng has now let the cat out of the bag and admitted that they are conducting a review of those rights; including opting out of the 48-hour week, which protects workers in key sectors like the NHS, road haulage and airlines from working excessive hours.

“A government committed to maintaining existing protections would not be reviewing whether they should be unpicked. This exposes that the Government’s priorities for Britain are totally wrong.

“Neither workers nor business want ministers to take a wrecking ball to the hard-won rights of working people and families.”

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Joao Vale de Almeida, EU ambassador to the UK, also warned Brussels could snap back with sanctions if the Government went too far with deregulation.

He said: “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 allow us to discuss and eventually to come to an understanding.

“If no understanding there are retaliation measures that can be applied on both sides.”

Under Boris Johnson’s trade deal, the EU can impose sanctions or other measures if the UK violates “level playing field” rules which keep the two parties aligned.

Mr Kwarteng also rubbished claims border delays and the rising costs of transporting goods into Europe was the consequence of Brexit.

Speaking to the committee of MPs, the secretary explained coronavirus restrictions and the closure of restaurants in France were to blame.

He said: “I think these are teething problems. We were in the EU for 47 years. A lot of predictions of total congestion and chaos have not materialised, that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods.

“But the most scary predictions were not borne out in reality. I’m confident that we will be able to get to a regime where we will have to get to a much smoother process.”

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