From the TUC

Forty years of progress on rights at risk for workers if Britain Brexits

07 Apr 2016, by in Working Life

The TUC has published today a legal opinion from prominent legal expert Michael Ford QC – Employment Silk of 2015 – which warns of years of chaos as a post-Brexit government re-regulates British employment law. The advice he has given the TUC lists the workplace rights which are most under threat from Brexit, and gives a chilling insight into the legal environment likely if Britain votes to leave the EU on 23 June.

Michael Ford, now Professor of Law at the University of Bristol, says that “there is no precedent for the kind of radical overhaul of laws which would potentially flow from Brexit”. And he says that simply repealing the European Communities Act 1972, as some Brexit supporters appear to advocate, is an “almost unimaginable” course of action, which would lead to “legal and commercial chaos”.  More likely is a lengthy transition in which the government could pick and choose which EU rights to dilute or scrap. This would create long-term uncertainty and confusion for both employers and workers, and it could result in workers losing many hard-won rights at work.

Michael Ford QC’s legal opinion states:

“All the social rights in employment currently required by EU law would be potentially vulnerable. … It is easy to contemplate a complete reversal of the gradual increase in social regulation protecting workers which has taken place since the 1960s.”

The rights most at risk would be:

  • working time rules, including limits on working hours and rules on the amount of holiday pay a worker is entitled to;
  • Transfer of Undertakings (TUPE), i.e. the EU-derived protections to the terms and conditions of workers at an organisation or service that 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; and
  • rights for workers’ representatives to be consulted if major changes are planned that will change people’s jobs or result in redundancies (as have been used in recent major announcements in the steel industry).

But other workers’ rights would not necessarily be safe, and workers would be left with only the UK courts to enforce those rights that remain. That might not be something we can rely on, as Michael’s advice points out. The European Court of Justice has generally taken a far more positive approach to workers’ rights – especially in the area of equality – than UK courts. And access to justice has been severely curtailed by Employment Tribunal fees set at levels that deter people with valid cases from making a claim. Even where workers successfully enforce their rights through the UK system, outside of the EU there would be nothing to stop the Government changing the law speedily to make sure no one else can benefit.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady says that:

“Voting to leave the EU is a big risk for everyone who works for a living. Brexit would mean working people are haunted by years of uncertainty, as rights like paid holiday, parental leave and equal treatment for part-timers and contract workers could be stripped away over time.

“The EU guarantees these rights, but generations of trade unionists fought for them. If we lose them because of Brexit, it could take generations to get them back again. The biggest cheerleaders for Brexit think that your protections at work are just red tape to be binned. Bad bosses will be rubbing their hands with glee if Brexit gives them the chance to cut workers’ hard-won protections.”

Read the full legal opinion

5 Responses to Forty years of progress on rights at risk for workers if Britain Brexits

  1. John Wood

    John Wood
    Apr 7th 2016, 9:38 am

    It’s especially worrying how this could start a race to the bottom on rights. Many of us are on contracts which establish these rights at a higher level. It’s not hard to see less scrupulous employers reducing those to take advantage of the “new normal” if we lose aspects of work rights. Like we’ve seen a flight from decent pension provision for companies’ new starters then for existing members, it might not take many years for the worst practices to filter through to better firms too.

  2. Hilda Palmer
    Apr 7th 2016, 10:01 am

    This could accelerate the already fast Race to the Bottom via the deregulatory demands of the UK government going into EU in form of better regulation and REFIT programmes, and the effect of TTIP negotiations. All of this has already stopped new and much needed regulation on health and safety for hairdressers, on carcinogens, mutagens and teratogens, on endocrine disrupting chemicals and musculo-skeletal disorders.

  3. Val
    Apr 8th 2016, 5:10 am

    What, they mean like the nonexistent equal pay for women? Or millions of people out of work? Millions of people being sanctioned having their benefits stolen? Millions of part time employees on zero hour contracts with no rights what so ever? Our parents and grandparents having already worked longer than the current generation will ever do, are having to work till they drop? Millions of unemployed people being used as slave labour? The EU does nothing what so ever, apart from fund via tax payer money, one of the biggest troughs for the biggest pigs. The only people wanting us to stay in it, are only doing so because they have their snouts in the trough. We do not need the EU, the EU needs the UK, it will collapse without the UK. They should be licking our arses and promising us the moon, but all we get is fear porn and what they don’t do. The EU does nothing, and the Unions have done nothing. We’ve been particularly deafened by the utter silence and failure of the Unions to protect workers rights. You are fear porning about some thing that you already allowed to happen. Makes me wonder what you’re really up to.

  4. Biscwuit
    Apr 8th 2016, 5:41 pm

    Why is a gavel used to illustrate this article? No judge or magistrate in England and Wales has EVER used one.

  5. John Wood

    John Wood
    Apr 9th 2016, 12:34 pm

    It’s a fair cop Biscwuit – We’re guilty as charged m’lud. (Bangs gavel…)