What is at stake for workers’ rights in the general election?

Brexit could mean that workers rights are on the negotiating table after the election on June 8. Bruce Robin of Thompsons Solicitors looks at what’s at stake for the law at work.

The decision to leave the European Union threatens many of the rights currently relied upon to enforce workplace safety and hold poor employers to account.

Now, with a general election just weeks away, we are at a crossroads: based on the experience of recent years and previous Tory governments, a Conservative prime minister would use a majority in the House of Commons to pursue a Brexit that works, first and foremost, for big business.

Not – despite what they say on the campaign trail – for the millions of workers around the country who need a fair Brexit that protects their rights, not their bosses’ pay packets.

Laws around workplace protections such as parental leave and working time look like they will be protected in the initial ‘Great Repeal Bill’, but the way that Bill is drafted means that these rights and all rights that are in our legal system from Europe are under threat in the round of new law-making that will follow the ‘Great Repeal Bill’.

Also under threat are the following set of health and safety rights, known as the ‘6 pack’, introduced into British law from the European Framework Directive on Safety and Health at Work in 1992:

  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations
  • Manual Handling Operations Regulations
  • Display Screen Equipment Regulations
  • Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations
  • Personal Protective Equipment Regulations

These regulations are the core principles which protect workers’ safety and ensure bosses provide a safe working environment. Every one of is potentially under threat when the underlying EU law which guarantees them is removed.

The Tories’ proposed ‘Great Repeal Bill’ will dissolve the European Communities Act. While the Bill would incorporate (and preserve) current EU laws, it would open up all those laws to being repealed by a Tory government without it having to debate the merits of any repeals in parliament.

It is clear from the way the Conservatives talked down Labour’s proposed Bill to protect all existing workers’ rights and health and safety laws after Brexit, in the last Parliament, that the Tories have no real interest in protecting them when we leave the EU. The Tories are unapologetic when it comes to ensuring that there are as few restrictions on big business as possible. For all the rhetoric about workers and workers’ rights on the campaign trail, the reality in Parliament has always been bosses first and workers second.

Both the coalition and Conservative governments sought to restrict workers’ rights and access to justice at every opportunity – usually using the excuse of reducing so-called “red tape”. From the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees to the proposals to restrict the pursuit of damages for injured people by increasing the small claims limit, the Tories have shown that they can never be trusted to really look after workers’ rights. While some proposals have been put on hold because of the announcement of a snap election, such as seeking to increase the small claims limit, the Conservatives have made very clear that they intend to carry on regardless if they are are returned to government.

On her first day as prime minister last year, Theresa May proclaimed that she would “act for the many, not the few”, and yet everything that came out of her government suggested the opposite. Again on the campaign trail, we have heard promises of workers’ rights, but when you strip away the fancy words, the rhetoric is empty. If she is re-elected with an increased majority, we should not expect anything to change, in fact she will be emboldened to go further.

The entire union movement must work together to ensure that rather than Brexit being used to row back on everything it has worked for, the rights we currently have are protected and built upon to ensure safe and fair workplaces are protected into the future for all.

Thompsons Solicitors are UNISON’s trusted legal partners, working with the union to get a fair deal for members. Read more here.