TUC Report Outlines Workers’ Rights At Risk From ‘Brexit’

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary.

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary.

The TUC has published a report today that sets out which workers’ rights in the UK are underpinned by EU rules – and would therefore be at risk if the UK votes to leave the EU.

UK Employment Rights and the EU provides a comprehensive assessment of the employment rights that derive from the UK’s membership of the European Union. And it considers the threat to these rights in the case of the UK voting to leave the EU.

These rights, which include paid annual leave, time off for antenatal appointments and fair treatment for part-time workers, are used every day by millions of workers. But if the UK votes to leave the EU, no-one can say what will happen to these rights.

Decisions on which rights to keep – and which to amend or drop altogether – would be left to the government as they reviewed all UK laws linked to the EU. And any changes could let employers cut the benefits and protections that UK workers currently have.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Working people have a huge stake in the referendum because workers’ rights are on the line. It’s the EU that guarantees workers their rights to paid holidays, parental leave, equal treatment for part-timers, and much more.

“These rights can’t be taken for granted. There are no guarantees that any government will keep them if the UK leaves the EU. And without the back-up of EU laws, unscrupulous employers will have free rein to cut many of their workers’ hard-won benefits and protections.

“The current government has already shown their appetite to attack workers’ rights. Unions in Britain campaigned for these rights and we don’t want them put in jeopardy. The question for everyone who works for a living is this: can you risk a leap into the unknown on workplace rights?”

The full report UK Employment Rights and the EU: an assessment of the impact of membership of the European Union on employment rights in the UK can be found at here.

The EU-derived rights outlined in the report include:

  • The right to 20 days’ paid annual leave a year.
  • The right to not be forced to work longer than 48 hours a week on average.
  • The right to paid time off for antenatal appointments; and protections for pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace.
  • The right to up to 18 weeks’ parental leave per child and to time off for urgent family reasons.
  • The right to equal pay for work of equal value between men and women.
  • The right to equal treatment for part-time, fixed-term and agency workers with other employees.
  • The right for workers’ representatives to be informed and consulted on significant changes that could affect jobs.
  • The right to high standards of health and safety at work.
  • Protections for workers affected by outsourcing or business buy-outs.
  • Protections from discrimination in the workplace on grounds of sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age, and religion or belief.

Millions of workers have benefited from the EU-derived workplace rights covered in the report. Examples include:

  • Six million workers gained new or enhanced rights to paid holidays (two million of whom had previously had no paid annual leave.)
  • Around 400,000 part-time workers, most of them women, gained improved pay and conditions when equal treatment rights were introduced.
  • Landmark legal cases with far reaching effects for other workers have resulted from women becoming able to challenge unequal pay in workplaces where men and women were concentrated in different kinds of jobs.
  • Some agency workers received a pay rise and improved holiday entitlements; and many workers on fixed-term contracts gained greater job security as a result of EU legislation.

The government has sought to diminish workers’ rights. For example, in 2012 the qualifying period for unfair dismissal rights was increased from one to two years, along with new caps on compensation. And in 2013, much higher fees were imposed on workers seeking to enforce their rights at employment tribunals.

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