EU Law Bill: Disability protections under threat

As the Retained EU Law Bill continues its journey to become law, UNISON is concerned about the devastating impact it could have on disability protections.

The Bill, described as a “bonfire of workers’ rights”, could see over 4,000 pieces of EU legislation torn out of the UK’s law books at the end of 2023 – including core workplace protections like holiday pay, maternity pay and protection for part-time workers. 

For decades, EU laws have ensured decent working standards in the UK, shielding workers from exploitation and discrimination. Alongside these laws, EU legal principles have developed over time, which UNISON has relied on to secure key landmark rulings for workers’ rights.

The Retained EU Law Bill could destroy all of these EU-derived laws, settled legal principles and case law, leaving UK workers in an employment law wasteland. 

How will the bill affect disabled workers?

UNISON is concerned this would have devastating implications for disabled workers, and workers who have caring responsibilities for a disabled person.

Whilst the UK Equality Act 2010 will remain in place, the EU legal principles that put flesh on the bones of this legislation will disappear.

UNISON has warned that this will result in:

  • Less protection for discrimination by association, ie where discrimination is because of someone else’s disability (or someone else’s protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010);
  • The meaning of “disability” in employment claims returning to an outdated, limited meaning used in non-employment Equality Act claims, where “normal day-to-day activities” is not expanded to include other activities relevant to participation in professional life.

UNISON national officer for disability equality Deirdre Costigan said: “This would be a shameful step backwards for disability equality at work. Already, many employers try to get away with disability discrimination by claiming the worker isn’t actually a disabled person. 

“If existing protections are removed, and the legal definition of what it means to have a disability is narrowed further, it will become even easier for employers to do this.”

“Lowering of protection against discrimination”

The government’s own equality impact assessment of the bill has highlighted the risk to people with protected characteristics, stating: “the EU law concepts that will be removed by the Bill underpin substantive rights in equality law.”

The equality impact assessment also describes how the removal of EU-derived laws and EU legal principles “may lead to a lowering of protection against discrimination” if specific rights related to the protected characteristics aren’t retained in any form. 

UNISON believes that this move away from European Court of Justice decisions will mean the Equality Act and its provisions are undermined. The union has outlined its concerns for disabled workers in its briefing to the government.

Since the Retained EU Law Bill was first introduced, UNISON has criticised the government for putting ideological principles before the lived, practical needs of workers. The one-year timeframe for the bill is rushed, opaque and unworkable.

Hundreds of UNISON members have shared their experiences and opinions on how important EU-derived workplace protections are.

UNISON is not alone. The government’s own regulatory policy committee has already declared the Retained EU Law Bill as ‘not fit for purpose’ and even the government lawyer who designed the concept of retained EU law has called the 2023 deadline unrealistic.

To help play your part in preventing this Brexit bonfire of workers’ protections, write to your MP today using this template. The more critical voices around the Retained EU Law Bill, the more likely we can delay and ultimately defeat it.

The article EU Law Bill: Disability protections under threat first appeared on the UNISON National site.