This week I introduced a bill to parliament, which will protect in British law the workers’ rights currently derived from the European Union.
Many suggestions were made by the Leave campaign about how the country would look, should the country vote to leave the EU – it would be free to make its own decisions, trade with whom it chose on the terms it decided, more money would be available for public services. A new dawn was heralded. There were no negatives. So I do not believe that people who voted to leave the EU were giving a mandate to do away with the protections currently afforded to them.
As the government continues its shambolic progression towards leaving the EU, it would be nothing short of a betrayal for it to lay any unintended consequences of Brexit at the door of workers. We need early consideration and proactive legislation to ensure that people’s rights are not allowed to be sacrificed.
Employment law is a complex area covered by a mix of primary and secondary legislation. The Equality Act, for example, secured maternity pay, paternity leave, and anti-discrimination rules, going further than the EU minimum. This primary legislation cannot be repealed without facing the full scrutiny of parliamentary processes.
But other directives and regulations do not enjoy the same level of security.
Our laws relating to employment practices, including health and safety, collective consultation, transfer of staff to new companies, maximum hours of weekly work, break periods, and rules protecting young people, are only covered by secondary legislation. Once the umbrella legislation is repealed, all subordinate areas could simply fall away. That is my fear.
As a trade union official for Unison I regularly supported groups of workers whose jobs were being transferred out to contractors or were having their contracts changed. I was able to ensure that appropriate consultation was undertaken, that the staff were aware of the procedures and their choices. Employers were required to justify their decisions and provide information. People’s salaries, pensions, sick pay and holidays were maintained.
With unprecedented numbers of people on zero-hours contracts today, rules on agency workers are more important than ever. These give the right to parity with permanent workers in terms of holidays and rates of pay, as well as equal access to the same vacancies, amenities and facilities as colleagues on permanent contracts.
People may take these rights for granted, but they will notice if they are removed or watered down.
The Tories have always shown scant regard for the rights of workers. Since 2010, they have increased the qualifying period before individuals are able to claim unfair dismissal, introduced fees to access employment tribunals, reduced consultation periods for redundancy and attempted to undermine the ability of trade unions to organise through the trade union bill. I have no confidence that the Conservatives will not seek to use Brexit as an excuse to weaken workers’ rights further.
The current laws are not perfect, but to lose these hard fought for, basic minimums would be rolling back the clock on workers’ rights, and must be opposed.
Melanie Onn is member of parliament for Great Grimsby. She tweets @OnnMel
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