Hannah Reed: Brexit and your rights at work – why you should be worried

Theresa May keeps promising that workers’ rights are safe in her hands after Brexit.

But more than two years after the referendum, working people still don’t know what will happen to their hard-won rights when the UK leaves the EU.

Right now, EU law protects equal pay for equal value work, pay and conditions for outsourced workers, and equal treatment for people in insecure jobs.

That means bosses can’t treat anyone like a second-class citizen – including agency, part time and temporary staff. And EU law also ensures workers have the right to a voice at work.

With Brexit day on 29 March 2019 approaching fast, workers want legal guarantees that these rights will be safe now and in the future – not just for them but for their children and grandchildren too.

But with public trust in Theresa May’s ability to get a good Brexit deal at an all-time low, working people are starting to wonder if she can really be trusted with their rights.

And who can blame them when the Prime Minister’s actions tell such a different story to her promises on workers’ rights? After all:

  • She’s risking the rights we have now

Ministers say the European Union (Withdrawal) Act will protect workers’ rights once we leave the EU.

It’s true that EU-derived equality, employment and health and safety standards will remain in place on the day we leave.

But the Act won’t stop future governments from repealing or watering down these rights further down the line.

And instead of legal guarantees, the Act gives ministers powers to repeal, dilute or limit employment rights after we leave the EU.

The TUC is very worried that ministers opposed amendments to make it harder for future governments to water down these rights.

And we’re not alone – the Equality and Human Rights Commission has also raised the alarm about the lack of legal guarantees for EU-derived equality laws after Brexit.

  • She’s broken promises to protect and enhance workplace rights already

Theresa May’s promise to protect workers’ rights after Brexit is really starting to wear thin.

If she really cared about our rights, then why did her ministers fight so hard to remove the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights from UK law on the day we leave?

The government claims that “the removal of the Charter from UK law would not affect the substantive rights from which individuals already benefit in the UK”.

But several Charter rights – including the free-standing right to non-discrimination – have no equivalent protection in UK law.

The Charter also guarantees workers a way to seek redress if their fundamental rights are breached.

So it’s not just a set of aspirations – it makes a real difference to workplaces across the UK. That’s why the Charter should remain UK law after Brexit.

And the same can be said for the general principles of EU law, such as protection from discrimination.

  • And she’s failing to protect and enhance rights in a future trade deal with EU

After Brexit, workers in the UK should always get the same or better rights as those in other European countries.

And a future trade deal must secure a level playing field on employment rights. We need to prevent a race to the bottom by ensuring decent employers are not undercut by the bad.

But what has the UK government and the EU said about protecting these rights now and in the future?

The European Parliament

On 3 March 2018, the European Parliament said that any future trade deal should provide a “level playing field, in particular in relation to the United Kingdom’s continued adherence to the standards laid down by international obligations and the Union’s legislation and policies in the fields of fair and rules-based competition, including…social and workers’ rights”.

The UK government

Slides prepared in May 2018 setting out a proposed framework for the UK-EU economic partnership showed that, far from keeping pace with future EU workplace standards, the UK government thinks “legal protection for workers [should] keep pace with the changing labour market”.

This means a future government could water down workplace rights on the pretext of use promoting labour market flexibility or creating jobs.

Similar arguments have been used by Conservative politicians who fought the introduction of the National Minimum Wage, agency workers’ rights and working time regulations.

Your rights at risk

Given her record of saying one thing but doing another on workplace rights, workers cannot trust the Prime Minister to get them a good Brexit deal.

That’s why the TUC is calling for a deal that keeps all the hard-won workers’ rights that come from the EU. And for workers in the UK to get the same rights as workers in the EU in the future.

We also want cast-iron guarantees on the rights of EU citizens working in the UK – and those of Brits working abroad.

And we’re absolutely clear that crashing out of Europe without a plan would be a disaster for workers’ rights.

Hannah Reed is a senior employment rights officer at the TUC. 

This article originally appeared on the TUC website. Copyright © 2018 Trades Union Congress.