Theresa May has been accused of failing to explicitly rule out scrapping the Working Time Directive, the EU rule which restricts the working week to 48 hours and protects other employment rights.
Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs pressed the prime minister on Monday to guarantee the regulation would be retained after Brexit.
“This government will not only maintain but enhance workers’ rights,” May told the Commons.
However her answer did not satisfy the Opposition benches who believed it was evasive.
Angela Smith, the MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, asked the prime minister:
“Can I ask the prime minister to give a very simple answer to a very simple question. Will the Working Time Directive be transposed into British law and embedded in British law, yes or no?”
“The EU Withdrawal Bill brings the workers’ rights which are currently in EU law into UK law. Which is why it’s a bit rich from Labour MPs who voted against bringing it into UK law.”
Labour voted against the EU Withdrawal Bill, a key piece of Brexit legislation, arguing it handed the government too much power to bypass parliament.
According to the TUC, if the Working Time Directive is scrapped seven million workers could lose rights to paid holidays – 4.7 million of them women – and many on zero-hours or part-time contracts. Workers could also lose the right to lunch and rest breaks, and night workers could lose some health and safety protections.
It has been reported that Brexiteer cabinet ministers including Michael Gove want the directive to be ditched.
The Sun on Sunday reported Brexiteer ministers have “widespread” support in the Cabinet to scrap the rule.
A source told the paper: “It will put the power to decide how hard to work back into the hands of the people who matter — the ordinary British worker.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has attacked the move as a “straight-up attack on our rights at work”.
“Millions could lose their paid holidays, and be forced to work ridiculously long hours,” she said.
The row in the Commons came as May updated MPs on the latest progress in the Brexit negotiations.
Ahead of the prime minister’s statement, the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s right-hand man, said Brexit was a “lose, lose situation”.
He told a meeting at the Chatham House think-tank in London that the UK leaving the EU would inevitably result in a “mutual weakening of two parties”.
With phase two of the talks due to begin in the New Year, Barnier himself has used an interview with Prospect magazine to warn Britain would have to “face the consequences” of the referendum result.