From the TUC

10 top Brexiteers explain why they’re a danger to our rights at work

27 May 2016, by in Working Life

From paid holidays to pregnancy rights, and from safety standards to protections from discrimination. Every right that’s guaranteed by European law is a right that trade unions fought for, to improve the lives of working people. Together they form a vital layer of protection to stop our own government from being able to cut things we take for granted at work. Unions and legal experts agree that if we leave in the referendum on 23 June, a lot of these rights could be at risk.

But you don’t have to take our word for it. Look at what leave campaign leaders themselves have said in the past, or keep watching when the mask slips during this long campaign, and you’ll get something of a different story. Running right through the Brexit leadership is a desire to cut what they see as regulations, and we see as rights.

We’ve put together a gallery of workers’ rights rogues, showing in their own words why we don’t trust them with our vital protections at work.

1. Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson. Photo: Oli Scarff

Photo: Oli Scarff

Boris may have performed a notorious U-turn over the whole issue of Europe, but his disregard for workers’ rights  has been much more consistent. He once summarised his preferred model for the EU as: “Boil it down to the single market. Scrap the social chapter.

In 2014 he declared:

“The weight of employment regulation is now back-breaking: the collective redundancies directive, the atypical workers directive, the working time directive and a thousand more.”

During the Prime Minister’s recent negotiations over Britain’s relationship to the EU he responded to the Trades Union movement’s successful lobbying to remove employment rights from the scope of negotiation thusly: “I looked at the headlines this morning about the possibility of Britain dropping its insistence on changes to employment law and I thought that was very disappointing.” He continued “So I think we need to weigh in on all that stuff, all that social chapter stuff”.

Boris might think of all this stuff as merely obstructive regulation but for ordinary workers these laws ensure they are safe, healthy and free from exploitation and discrimination at work.

2. Priti Patel

Priti Patel. Photo: Policy Exchange

Photo: Policy Exchange

Prominent Brexiteer Priti Patel MP let the cat out the bag in a recent 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 don’t accept her claims on any economic benefits of that kind of deregulation (it reminds us of right wing claims the minimum wage would cost a million jobs, when it did the opposite), but her hostile attitude to worker rights is particularly concerning.

These “burdens” viewed from working people’s end of the telescope are actually protections that we’re understandably very keen on. She didn’t explain which half of EU derived rights she’d cut, but used the weird example of cutting working time rights for self-employed lorry drivers, ‘allowing’ them to drive more than 48 hours a week. We don’t think many people want trucks with tired drivers on our streets.

3. Iain Duncan Smith

Iain Duncan Smith. Photo: Dan Kirkwood

Photo: Dan Kirkwood

The quiet man of Brexit will probably wish he had been a bit quieter after his appearance on BBC Sunday Politics (watch him here). He tried to duck Andrew Neill’s question on whether he’d keep the Working Time Directive if the UK leaves the EU (with its guarantees on paid holiday, work breaks and protections from excessive hours). The best he could manage was 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”. That kind of flexibility mainly works one way, and it isn’t the right way.

4. Steve Hilton

Steve Hilton. Photo: Policy Exchange

Photo: Policy Exchange

Cameron’s former “blue sky thinking” policy guru announced for Brexit in a Daily Mail article, complaining that “membership of the EU brings with it constraints on everything from employment law to family policy”. It sound like he’s not changed his tune since he suggested maternity rights should be abolished, he was said to believe that they were “the biggest obstacle to a woman finding work”.

As the TUC has pointed out countless times, the evidence on maternity rights points in the opposite direction: as maternity rights have improved over the past three decades so has women’s employment. Hilton may be frustrated by the constraints that EU rules placed on his blue-skies. But we think many working women will be very pleased that the EU guarantees their rights.

5. Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage

Photo: Peter MacDiarmid

Nigel Farage must qualify as the UK’s arch-Brexiteer. Along with making his lack of appreciation for the EU clear at every opportunity, he has not been shy about holding forth on a range of controversial issues. For instance, a few years ago he got into hot water after offering his views on the issue of women in the workplace:

“A woman who has a client base, has a child and takes two or three years off – she is worth far less to her employer when she comes back than when she went away because that client base won’t be stuck as rigidly to her portfolio”

It is perhaps irksome to Nigel that the EU strengthened our protections to ensure that employers cannot employ his logic to discriminate against mothers at work.

6. Tim Martin

Tim Martin

Photo: Geoff Moore / REX / Shutterstock

Mr Martin, CEO of pub chain JD Wetherspoon, is one of a few business-based Brexiteers. He recently weighed in on the issue of zero-hours contracts (which his company are notorious for their reliance on). To Mr Martin, contracts that provide a highly unstable income with their personal life at the mercy of their employer is vital because “In a trade like pubs it would probably push up the price of a pint if there was regulation”.

With an EU proposal currently on the table to strengthen workers’ right to a written statement of particulars for the job – potentially including specifying expected hours of work – is Mr Martin hoping to secure continued government inaction on the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts?

7. Martin Callanan

Martin Callanan

Photo: Richard Gardner / REX / Shutterstock

Martin Callanan, Conservative Peer Baron Callanan, was MEP for the North East of England from 1999-2014 and Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament. Mr Callanan made his views on worker’s rights quite clear when he called for the abolition of the whole employment and social affairs directorate. He dismissed “the Working Time Directive, the Agency Workers’ Directive, (and) the Pregnant Workers’ Directive” as merely “other barriers to actually employing people.”

In fact decent working conditions tend to produce more motivated and productive workers. Mr Callanan’s suggestions would put workers at risk, not just of exploitation but of serious harm, and in places like hospitals they risk putting patients lives at risk.

8. John Redwood

John Redwood

Photo: The Independent / REX / Shutterstock

Back in 2007 John Redwood MP produced a document called “Freeing Britain To Compete”. It was considered a bit of an embarrassment for the Conservative party at the time, so you don’t hear much reference to it these days. Looking it over it is easy to understand why. Mr Redwood identified a slew of reforms he felt would make the UK economy more competitive.  These involved:

“restoring the Social Chapter opt out, and producing UK rules on: Works Councils, part time and fixed term working, sex discrimination, information, and consultation. These should balance the interests of existing employees with the need for a flexible labour market to create more jobs.”

John Redwood’s kind of competition is sadly the type most people end up losing. It means weakening and scrapping protections sparking a race to the bottom in pay, conditions and safety.

9. Donald Trump

Donald Trump. Photo: Andy Katz

Photo: Andy Katz

Okay, he might not actually get a vote in this one, but The Donald was quick to come out for Brexit after Obama suggested the UK might be better off in.

He’s currently engaged in a battle to stop workers at his Las Vegas hotel from forming a union. He also supports the controversial “right to work” laws that have been brought in by many right wing state governments in the US, designed to reduce union rights and allow employers to undercut working conditions. In fact he suggested states with lower rights should compete for jobs against those with more.

Unions are campaigning in Europe to raise minimum standards as a way to stop exploitation and undercutting of better conditions. We certainly don’t want countries playing off against each other for the worst worker rights.

10. All the rest of the Conservative Party

Conservative party conference

Photo: REX / Shutterstock

We know they’re not exactly united on this one, but whether they’re innies or outies, if we leave the EU they’ll still be the government. That means they’re the ones who would get to decide which of the EU’s employment rights we keep, which we cut, and which we scrap.

We don’t need to look at their past statements on employment rights, when we’ve got some pretty clear evidence from what they’ve actually done.

In 2013 they took an axe to workers’ abilities to stand up for themselves at work. They doubled the waiting period for unfair dismissals, meaning you now have to be working somewhere for two whole years before your boss is banned from sacking you on a whim. This right wasn’t underpinned by EU law, so the government were free to push this change through.

And they brought in tribunal fees to price workers out of justice. Asking £400 up front to do something about your boss not paying you owed wages is perhaps the definition of unfair. Want to complain about being discriminated against? That’s £1,200.

In advance of the referendum, David Cameron toured Europe to try to water down EU work rights, by letting the UK opt out of some of them. We worked with unions across Europe, who stood firm and told their governments to send him packing. If he’s still PM after Brexit, we’re sure he’d be back.

And trade unionists have particular reason for caution after the Trade Union Bill passed into law. A campaign by unions and allies cut the bill down hugely in its damaging scope, but even so it brings in a whole slew of restrictions on unions, and undermines workers’ right to strike.

Don’t risk it

Many of the rights we take for granted are on the line in this referendum. The Brexit camp want to do away with guarantees from the EU, and let them cut away at our rights and protections.

It won’t take long for bad bosses to take advantage of the new minimums, and over time everyone’s job will get a little worse and a little less safe, as more and more employers revise working conditions downwards to the “new normal”. We’ll also miss out on positive new rights coming from Europe (let’s face it, we’re not likely to win much better in the UK alone in the next few years, what with this lot in charge).

If you care about the rights you have at work, or what the world of work is going to look like for your kids or grandkids, don’t believe the Brexiteers, and don’t risk it on 23 June.

10 Responses to 10 top Brexiteers explain why they’re a danger to our rights at work

  1. John Wood

    John Wood
    May 27th 2016, 7:37 pm

    So many of the Brexiteers’ costings on the money we’d save from leaving aren’t actually costs to the UK taxpayer but costs to business of complying with legislation like the Working Time Directive (which provides better standards on paid holidays than we had before as well as protection from being made to work excessive hours). Rolling those back won’t save working people cash, but will cost them dearly in terms of their rights and security at work. Every time they mention red tape they’d cut, that means our rights and we shouldn’t fall for it.

  2. Nigel Baldwin
    May 29th 2016, 7:35 pm

    The logical outcome of the Tories’ offensive against the gains achieved by the Trade Unions over the years, has to be the abolition of Trade Unions and Trade Unionism in Britain.

  3. Disappointed
    May 30th 2016, 4:27 pm

    Not convinced at all, where are these “rights”. Recently tried to take case to IT for continuous bullying and ACAS were crap. Conciliator basically said employers could do whatever they wanted. Also after 42 years working, paying tax, NI and never taking benefits I decided to retire early as I had health problems but can get no benefits as my small company pension is above £73 per week and I have to wait another 8 years to get state pension. Seems to me that British workers have no protection whether in EU or not.

  4. Dave Barsby
    Jun 2nd 2016, 12:16 am

    Employers can do as they please. Whether it is correct or lawful gets decided in the courts or Employment tribunals. there is a procedure to fallow for all cases and if this isn’t adhered to then it is difficult to win against the employer. this is where people need unions, as an insurance. they tend not to support unions until something happens to them and then expect unions to run to their aid no matter what. From my own personal experience as a TUC rep.

  5. Peter Honour
    Jun 4th 2016, 12:00 pm

    Please, please, please, Labour Party and Trade Union leaders, work your hardest to get this message across.
    It looks like the outcome of the Referendum could turn on how Labour and Union supportes vote, and how many of them vote. A recent You Gov survey found that 47% of Labour supporters don’t know the Party’s position on Remain or Leave.

  6. Robert Crosby
    Jun 7th 2016, 3:04 pm

    Brilliant article!

  7. Mags Dunbar
    Jun 7th 2016, 4:38 pm

    Brill ! Well done sourcing all quotes . Now just need Jermony to repeat repeat repeat !!

  8. Disabled people pulling down barriers across the EU
    Jun 8th 2016, 4:48 pm

    […] the deregulatory zeal of many in the Vote Leave camp, it is not hard to imagine exemptions for small businesses or loopholes creeping back in. No doubt, […]

  9. The Leave campaign’s 4 biggest euro-fibs
    Jun 23rd 2016, 8:59 am

    […] hardly the only ones. Leading employment barrister Michael Ford QC has made clear in his advice to the TUC that, in his […]

  10. Johnson's real agenda coming clearer: watch out for your rights!
    Jun 29th 2016, 11:38 am

    […] claims about bananas and pasties) has been those guaranteeing workers’ rights. As we’ve pointed out, Johnson would like to scrap the whole social model. And most of the cases that […]