Boris Johnson unveils 'sinister' plan to stop rail staff striking after workers' rights stripped from Brexit deal

Protections for working people have been hived off from Brexit legislation into a separate employment bill

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 19 December 2019 12:46 GMT
The Queen sets out Government’s priorities including Brexit, NHS, knife crime and immigration

Trade union leaders have reacted with scepticism to Boris Johnson's promises to bolster working standards after Brexit amid fears that vital protections could be watered down.

The TUC urged workers need to "check the small print before trusting this government's promises" as Mr Johnson set out plans for a new law to protect workers' rights after Brexit over the next parliament.

Protections for working people have been hived off from Brexit legislation into a separate employment bill, which includes a new enforcement body for workers, extended redundancy protections and a new right for workers to request "a more predictable contract".

However the Queen's Speech also includes a new law to curb rail strikes, described as "a sinister move usually associated with tin-pot dictators" by transport union leaders.

Emboldened by his historic election win, Mr Johnson has sought to put rights for workers and delivering on Brexit at the heart of the Queen's Speech, as he seeks to repay the trust of traditional Labour voters who delivered him into Downing Street with an 80-strong majority.

His election pledge to "Get Brexit Done" is at the centre of the set-piece parliamentary occasion, where the monarch reads out the government's legislative programme for the next parliamentary session.

It comes as MPs were expected to vote on the first stages of the withdrawal agreement bill before the Commons rises for Christmas, to underline the government's commitment delivering Brexit.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, condemned the PM for failing to deliver on promises made to working families during the election.

“Working people will want to check the small print before trusting this government’s promises," she said.

“Ministers should be taking action to outlaw hated zero-hours contracts, which trap working families in poverty. And they should get wages rising by empowering workers to negotiate fair pay.

“We know that many in the cabinet are desperate to drive down labour standards. That’s why the government has launched another attack on the democratic right to strike to make it harder for working people to stand up for their rights. ”

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, which represents transport staff, condemned plans to make rail strikes unlawful unless a minimum service agreement is in place.

“This is straightforward union bashing from an anti-worker Tory government which will always back the bosses over workers," he said.

"Strike action is always a last resort. Our union wins many victories without the need for industrial action as reasonable employers are prepared to listen and act on our members’ concerns.

“However, taking away that right is a sinister move usually associated with tin-pot dictators and it's a warning of the true colours of Johnson’s bosses’ club."

On Brexit, the new withdrawal agreement bill explicitly rules out any extension to the transition period beyond December 2020, leaving Mr Johnson only 11 months to negotiate a trade deal with Brussels or risk crashing out of the EU without a deal.

It enshrines in law the UK's departure from the EU with a deal on 31 January and also protects the rights of EU citizens in law.

Five other Brexit-related bills will be tabled, covering changes to farming and fishing regulations once the UK leaves the EU.

A new trade bill will create an independent body to protect businesses from unfair practices and unexpected surges in imports, alongside legislation to protect the UK's financial services sector and a bill to help families and businesses caught up in cross-border disputes to access justice.

In an introduction to the Queen's Speech, Mr Johnson said: "Our first task is to get Brexit done and we will leave the EU at the end of January. As I said many times over the course of the election campaign, we have a pre-cooked Brexit meal ready to pop in the microwave - and we will bring it before parliament this week.

"We will release the country from the stranglehold of indecision restoring confidence to people and businesses. We will avoid the trap of further dither and delay - by ruling out any extension to the implementation period beyond 2020.

"And we will maximise the opportunities of Brexit - taking back control of our money, our laws, our trade and our borders, introducing an Australian style points based immigration system so we can attract the brightest and best from the world.

"Then we will move one and focus on the people's priorities."

The pared-back Queen's Speech on Thursday contained some 40 pieces of legislation, including radical plans to overhaul the UK's constitution and justice system.

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