Act now on threat to workplace and environmental rights

By Mike Phipps

 On Tuesday, MPs will vote on amendments that will give Parliament a proper say on trade deals. Global Justice Now are urging their supporters to email their MPs to ensure accountability over the process, while the government appears hell-bent on rushing its legislation through.

“We’re heading for an out of control bonfire of regulations, and trade deals will be a key part of this,” warn the campaign.

They add: “In the past few weeks we have seen the UK’s trade deal with the EU rushed through Parliament in mere hours without enough time to get to grips with its thousand plus pages. We’ve also seen some of the dangers we feared begin to happen…

“We’ve seen headlines on government plans to rip up workers’ rights, the launch of a consultation to deregulate gene-editing technologies, and the Chancellor talk about a ‘Big Bang 2.0’ of financial deregulation.  A temporary authorisation of bee-harming pesticides could unleash a wave of chemical deregulation. And a parliamentary committee which would have allowed MPs to scrutinise the EU trade deal has been scrapped.”

Workplace and environmental rights appear to be a prime target. Press briefings suggest the maximum 48 hour working week is under threat. According to a recent Financial Times article, working time rules designed to protect workers’ health and safety are also threatened, along with existing entitlements to holiday pay – currently four weeks plus bank holidays.

 Leading Tories are also calling for a range of further deregulation, in the field of employment rights and environmental safeguards, specifically the scrapping of

  • the Temporary Workers’ Directive, which guarantees agency staff receive equal pay and conditions with employees in the same firm after 12 weeks;
  • the General Data Protection Regulation, which gives individuals control over their personal data and limits its transfer to other countries;
  • the ban on products made from genetically modified crops;
  •   the REACH Directive, which chemicals linked to health problems including cancer, thyroid disease, hormone disruption and slow development;
  • the End of Life Vehicles Directive – to achieve environmentally-friendly dismantling and recycling, with targets for the reuse of vehicles and their components.

Writing in the Guardian, Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband pointed out that this “is the deregulated race to the bottom of which they have long dreamed. The new business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, even co-wrote a whole pamphlet proposing to exempt startup firms from employment legislation, moving away from a national minimum wage so it could be lower in some areas of the country.”

He added: “The real question over the coming months is not whether the government wants to weaken worker protections, but whether it can get away with it.”

A recent TUC survey found that three-quarters of voters wanted existing EU workplace rights protected and enhanced. This was supported by two-thirds of people who voted Conservative in 2019.

Tory proposals have wider implications. “The government’s plans to deregulate do not stop at Britain’s borders,” warns GJN head Nick Dearden. “Through trade deals, these policies could be inflicted on people in countries of the global south too.”

He adds: ”We need to use every lever we can to hold the government to account for its trade policy. We won vital amendments to the Trade Bill late last year. But the Bill is still going through Parliament. We need to make sure those trade democracy amendments remain in the Bill during its final stages – and become law.”

Mike Phipps is editor of the Iraq Occupation Focus e-newsletter, available at His book For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power was published by OR Books in 2018.


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