The National:

REPORTS that the UK Government has asked the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial to work up a package of deregulatory measures following the UK’s final departure from the European Union are alarming if not surprising.

Not surprising, because a Government that fields Jacob Rees-Mogg, a serial tax avoider, to talk about fish "feeling happier because they are British" in the same week that our seafood sector is at breaking point because of the Brexit trade deal, is hardly going to baulk at the opportunity to do what they have always stood for – attacking workers’ rights.

The Government plans include renouncing the EU Working Time Directive, which lays down a maximum 48-hour working week and guarantees the statutory right to work breaks. We also fear the potential loss of paid holiday protections. And all of this could be just the tip of the iceberg.

READ MORE: Tories plan to 'sledgehammer' workers' rights and end 48-hour working week limit

The idea of employers being able to compel workers to exceed a 48-hour working week, reducing already limited rest periods and holidays, should be anathema to all. The impact of this would be most acutely felt in private sector areas such as hospitality and parts of retail, where work is precarious and trade union presence is currently low.

Whilst the picture in other sectors, where union representation is stronger, is not always rosy, workers at least have the collective power to oppose the downgrading of their terms of employment.

Despite occasional protestations to the contrary, there has never been any doubt about the Tory Party’s aim of downgrading employment rights – not to mention environmental and food standards protections. This was clearly illustrated during the passage of the Internal Market Bill, vigorously opposed by the devolved legislatures and the trade union movement, which clearly signalled the UK Government’s aim of a race to the bottom and a reduction of the already limited power of the Scottish Parliament to protect standards.

Whilst it would be a mistake to vest in the EU some extraordinary status as defenders of workers’ rights, the level playing field approach to free trade did at least bring with it an underpinning of employment rights which clearly contradict Tory Party dogma.

READ MORE: Scottish fishermen outline broken Brexit promises in letter to Boris Johnson

The EU does have some powers under the Brexit trade deal to object to the UK Government’s approach and theoretically to threaten tariffs. However, it has also stated that the downgrading of employment rights would only be problematic if it has an impact on free trade between the UK and Europe.

The UK Government’s calculation is likely to centre on the fact that the sectors mentioned earlier are predominantly customer facing and focused on the domestic economy rather than being internationally tradeable. We may quickly discover that there is a limit to the EU’s interest in workers’ rights in the UK.

What is clear, is that the lowest paid and most precarious workers in society are about to face another major threat. It will require concerted campaigning inside and outside of Parliament to oppose these attacks. This we stand ready to do.

Dave Moxham is the deputy general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress