The Single Market has developed strong rights for workers which have been brought into UK law thanks to our membership of the EU. These rights are designed to prevent exploitation and discrimination, and promote opportunity, fairness and equality. They provide dignity and safety at work but also prevent ‘social dumping’, when one country can gain a competitive advantage over another through cost-cutting workplace practices.
With the UK leaving the EU, workers will no longer automatically enjoy the certainty that comes from having the EU set the floor for minimum rights and conditions. Given that many leading Leave campaigners have a history of arguing for a reduction in workers’ rights and anti-discrimination legislation, the vast majority who value them will now consider them at risk. Other leading Leave campaigners pledged that the Social Chapter would remain. The Government has given mixed signals on the matter, but, crucially, have not given the firm guarantees working people want.
Some of the rights UK workers enjoy are the result of UK rather than EU action but that is not the case with them all. It is vital, therefore, that nothing is done to undermine employment rights. As a minimum all rights guaranteed by the EU should be immediately translated into UK law.
Common cross-European standards should continue and we will campaign to prevent the undercutting of workers’ rights with the same vigour with which we will approach the undercutting of workers’ wages. Both are equally important to our commitment that a Social Europe must endure with the UK playing a part within it.
Ensuring Employment and Non-Discrimination Rights are not Downgraded
EU law ensures that workers are entitled to paid holiday of at least four weeks a year and sets maximum working hours, with particular provisions for those working in road, rail and air transport and at sea. EU law also guarantees part-time workers rights equal to those enjoyed by full-time employees and that workers sent by their employers to work in another EU country do not lose out through worsened working conditions. In addition, EU law provides employees with rights if firms plan collective redundancies, go bust or are transferred to new ownership.
EU law prohibits discrimination in the workplace on grounds of gender, age, ethnic or racial origin, religion or belief, disability or sexual orientation. The EU ban on discrimination strengthens the protections that UK workers enjoy as a result of other international and national law. Women in the EU are legally entitled to at least 14 weeks’ maternity leave and to protection against being sacked for being pregnant. EU law also requires member states to provide for parental leave and encourage equality between working men and women and improve family life.
These vital rights must not be downgraded.
The UK Government’s White Paper states that “in general…the preserved law should continue to be interpreted in the same way as it is at the moment”. This is welcome. However, it also states that “there will also be a programme of secondary legislation under the Great Repeal Bill to address deficiencies in the preserved law”. Some workers’ rights enjoyed by British workers have been created not by decisions of the European Court of Justice. These include the awarding of annual holidays during long-term sick leave, the banning of so-called rolled up holiday pay, and favourable holiday pay calculations. The Government has to be clear that this does not imply that Parliament could effectively scrap workers’ rights delivered by the ECJ. All of these rights should be translated into UK law as part of the Great Repeal Bill process.