From the TUC

Who let the cats out? Priti Patel suggests we could lose half our EU work rights after #Brexit

18 May 2016, by in Politics

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

Letting the cat out of the bag again

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.

8 Responses to Who let the cats out? Priti Patel suggests we could lose half our EU work rights after #Brexit

  1. denise johnson
    May 19th 2016, 9:55 am

    Excellent stuff john, and hopefully some extra reads becaus of the pictures!

  2. Roger Allen
    May 20th 2016, 9:15 am

    Short, direct & to the point. Shows precisely why Tory freemarketeers make my blood boil. Illustration understated your case – it should have been a pride of ravenous lions bursting out of that bag!

  3. Craig Thomas
    May 20th 2016, 2:01 pm

    Good points but you are commenting on a right wing fantasy of an independent Britain. If they took away Labour rights following Brexit, then what is to stop the British people voting in a Labour government to reinstate them? If you think about it in the long term then leaving the EU addresses a democratic deficit and that could be a bonus for unions and workers (see the RMT’s argument).
    I am still undecided but I think it’s a shame that most commentators focus on in / out based on what the Tories and big business are going to do. We have power as well and could use a Brexit to our advantage.

  4. R S Davies
    May 21st 2016, 7:53 pm

    As Priti Patel called for EU migrants to be excluded from UK and that curry restaurants should be permitted to bring in Bangladeshi chefs (they are our people are they?), a few things occurred to me. Why aren’t the curry restaurants setting up training centres in UK so that unemployed UK citizens be trained as chefs – isn’t catering / cooking popular and quite chic these days? Why would a body of employers want to import foreign nationals, who are likely to have poor linguistic skills and thus low level of awareness of the variety of EU regulations & rights – or am I being disingenuously naive? Cheap ignorant workers work long hours for below basic wages and the bosses make the profits.

  5. John Wood

    John Wood
    May 24th 2016, 10:44 am

    Hi Craig. We could already improve on the EU minimums in UK law – they’re a minimum level, not a limit. In many cases they raised the scope or extent of a right already held under UK law (eg paid holiday rights from EU extended holidays for 6million people beyond UK law minimums). We’re not holding our breath for the current government to improve workers’ rights beyond the minimums (though we don’t stop trying), but we’re sure they or a further-right government of brexiteers would have a go at cutting them more if they could. A future more progressive government could certainly build on this though – We just want to keep the foundations so we can build better in the future.

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    May 27th 2016, 11:15 pm

    […] Brexiteer Priti Patel MP let the cat out the bag in a recent speech to the Institute of […]

  7. Martin
    Jun 3rd 2016, 10:07 am

    Craig Thomas has hit the nail on the head, the unions should see this as an opportunity to improve our rights not whinge about what bad things might happen. Unions should be pro Brexit and looking for opportunities to improve workers’ rights and of course insisting that existing legislation is ‘existing legislation’ (remember that when Fred the Shred left a ruined bank (in his wake we were told that his existing pension rights could not be changed, so let’s use that as the yardstick, everybody else’s existing rights should not be changed. Come on, stand up for our rights!

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