The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) is the latest trade association to express serious concerns about how Brexit is being negotiated, with a report setting out the measures needed to sustain the industry – which employs many in the UK, as well as abroad – after Brexit. In particular, ABTA is clear that ‘no deal’ is not an option, but trade unions are also concerned about how much paid leave working people will have, and whether they’ll be able to afford holidays abroad anyway.
ABTA’s concerns include the issue of visa-free travel and the future of the EHIC card that is the passport to medical treatment. But they are more worried that if the UK left the European Union without a deal, all sorts of dire consequences would follow in terms of freedom to fly, because there are no WTO arrangements for air travel. So the industry is calling for transitional arrangements to be in place to ensure we have the time needed to do a deal, as the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady hs stressed, saying:
“The Prime Minister needs to protect British workers and British industry by agreeing a transitional deal with EU leaders. This will protect Britain from a cliff edge at the end of two years. It will allow the Prime Minister to take the time she needs to get the very best EU deal for Britain, instead of a duff deal made in a rush.”
But of course we have other concerns about the impact of Brexit. Firstly, will working people have the right to take the paid leave in the first place? Before the EU Working Time Directive came into effect, millions of workers didn’t (unionised workers had holidays their unions had won through negotiations with employers) and millions more have got more paid leave than they had before.
The Government has promised to protect and enhance working people’s rights, but the voices calling for rules on paid holidays, working time and so on have already started, with the Daily Telegraph including working time rules as one of the top priorities for deregulation, backed by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and with right-wingers like John Redwood beginning to mutter about what EU laws would be marked for abolition in the next Conservative manifesto.
Given Theresa May’s pledge, it’s unlikely the Government would start out by trying to abolish such rights wholesale, but the proposal in the Great Repeal Bill white paper to allow the Supreme Court to reverse European Court of Justice judgments would open the door to employers wanting to roll back the progressive decisions of the ECJ on issues like working time.
And finally, of course, there’s a question mark over whether working people will be able to afford to holiday in places like Greece, Malta and Spain any more. With the referendum-induced drop in the value of sterling against the euro, holidays have automatically risen in price, and the return of inflation without decent wage rises is already putting a huge squeeze on family finances. ABTA’s members won’t survive on upper class holidays in Tuscany, Monaco or the Alps!
So, the continental holiday that has been such a feature of properly paid working people’s lives since the UK joined the EU could be under threat from several directions without a Brexit deal that puts workers’ rights, jobs and wages first.
Owen Tudor is Head of the TUC’s European Union and International Relations Department. This article first appeared on the TUC Touchstone blog. Copyright © 2017 ToUChstone, Trades Union Congress.