Who let the cats out? Priti Patel suggests we could lose half our EU work rights after #Brexit
Prominent Brexiteer Priti Patel MP joined the growing number of her colleagues who’ve let the Leave campaign’s cats out of their bags yesterday, in her speech to the Institute of Directors.
“If we could just halve the burdens of the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3 billion boost to our economy and 60,000 new jobs.”
Now, we certainly don’t accept her claims on jobs or economic benefits to this kind of deregulation (it rather reminds us of right wing claims on how the minimum wage would cost a million jobs, when it did the opposite), but we were particularly struck by her hostile attitude to employment protections.
These “burdens” viewed from working people’s end of the telescope are actually protections that we’re understandably very keen on. Other Brexit leaders have pooh-poohed our suggestions that they might be for the chop if we leave the EU, and lose the underpinning of EU law in our own employment rights legislation.
Last month, we asked Michael Ford QC for an independent legal opinion on the consequences of Brexit for UK employment law and workers’ rights (you can read the whole thing here).
Looking over the many rights that are guaranteed by the EU, and our government’s past form and public policy documents, he suggested the protections that would be most vulnerable are:
- Collective consultation, including the right for workers’ representatives to be consulted on major changes that will change jobs or result in redundancies (as we’ve seen recently in our crisis-hit steel industry).
- Working Time Directive rules, including rules on excessive hours, breaks and the amount of holiday pay you’re entitled to.
- EU-derived health and safety regulations.
- Transfer of Undertakings (TUPE), the protections to your terms and conditions if your job is transferred or outsourced to a new employer.
- Protections for agency workers and other ‘atypical’ workers, such as part-time workers.
- Current levels of compensation for discrimination of all kinds, including equal pay awards and age discrimination.
So is that Priti Patel’s hit list of our rights that she’d like to do away with?
In her speech, she gave the specific example of exempting self-employed truck drivers from Working Time Directive rights, which means they would be free to drive until they fell asleep at the wheel – not only bad for their health and safety, but for everyone else on the road.
But if she’s talking about cutting half of the regulations, that’s just the tip of the cat-berg.
Bonus cat-bag pic
And of course, this comes just days after Vote Leave’s Iain Duncan Smith tried to dodge Andrew Neil’s questioning on the Sunday Politics, as to whether we’d keep our Working Time Directive rights. He managed an unconvincing:
“I believe that it’s right to have it, but the question is how flexible you are about the way it’s operated.”
Unions have a lot of experience of government and employers trying to make our working time rights more “flexible”. Our concerns are that where our guaranteed rights get watered down, bad bosses are the first to take advantage. Over time, even the better employers start to follow as you get a “new normal”.
If the range of options on the table already includes IDS’ flexible interpretations of employment rights, and Priti Patel’s fire sale of half our EU guaranteed rights, we wonder just how many more cats we’ll see popping out before June 23.