Boris Johnson considers post-Brexit changes to rules on 48-hour working week

Gordon Rayner
·3-min read
The working time directive could be up for review - PA
The working time directive could be up for review - PA

Boris Johnson is considering a post-Brexit overhaul of labour laws to free businesses from regulations originally imposed by the EU.

The 48-hour working week is one of the regulations being targeted by the Government, it was reported on Thursday night, in a move that is likely to meet with resistance from trade unions.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), has asked business leaders for their views on the ideas, which are understood to be at an early stage.

Mr Johnson recently said there would be “big changes” to regulation this year but that the UK would not “regress” on workers’ rights and would not “send children up chimneys”.

But ministers believe the current laws, imported from EU law as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, can be tweaked to benefit both businesses and workers.

One possibility is to change rules around the 48-hour week, also known as the working time directive, which currently includes paid overtime.

Prior to the pandemic employees in the UK averaged around 32 hours of work per week, dropping down to just 25.8 hours during the summer as employers furloughed many of their workers, according to figures from the ONS.

The Telegraph understands that options drawn up by officials include the removal of the requirement of businesses to log the daily reporting of working hours, saving firms money.

A government source said officials had pulled together a list of options to reform EU-derived employment law, but that nothing had been agreed by ministers.

Under the current law employers cannot force employees to work more than 48 hours per week, averaged out over 17 weeks, though employees can agree to work more hours and some jobs, such as nursing, farming and hospitality have some exemptions.

Any relaxing of regulations is likely to be welcomed by free marketeer Tory MPs, but under the terms of the Brexit trade deal the EU would have a right to request the imposition of tariffs on British goods if the UK gained a competitive advantage as a result.

The plans, which have been drawn up by officials, have not been approved by ministers or put to the Cabinet.

On Thursday night Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, said: “We are not going to lower the standards of workers’ rights. The UK has one of the best workers’ rights records in the world - going further than the EU in many areas.

“We want to protect and enhance workers’ rights going forward, not row back on them.”

Labour described the reported plan as a "disgrace" and warned it would fight any such moves "tooth and nail".

Ed Miliband, the Shadow Business Secretary, said his party would strongly oppose the plans.

"These proposals are not about cutting red tape for businesses but ripping up vital rights for workers. They should not even be up for discussion," he said.

"People are already deeply worried about their jobs and health. It's a disgrace the Government is considering forcing them to work longer hours or lose paid holidays."