Blog: The EU law bill – a Halloween nightmare from Downing Street

It might not be Halloween yet, but yesterday in the House of Commons, MPs debated the Retained EU Law bill, which aims to deregulate workplaces and strip away protections that all UK workers rely on.

A bonfire of employment rights might be the long-cherished dream of right-wing ideologues like Jacob Rees-Mogg, but it’s a nightmare for workers – particularly women. One member told UNISON that these plans were “callous, cruel and despicable”. I agree.

If the bill becomes law, it will start a countdown that will see rights such as rest breaks, holidays, maternity, paternity and parental leave, paid time off for health and safety reps, TUPE protections and more expire by December 2023.

The government will then give itself sweeping powers to rewrite, replace or simply let these rights disappear. There will be little opportunity for parliamentary debate or scrutiny over what these replacements are – if there is any time at all.

Civil servants have expressed concern that there is little capacity to deal with the uncertainty and massive gaps this bill will leave.

Not content with ripping out protections, with no guarantees or credible plans to replace them, the bill would also create chaos in the legal system. It asks UK courts to depart from EU law and principles, which means that decades of legal judgements and case law will have to be re-litigated and reargued, at an immense financial cost to all the workers and employers bringing and defending claims.

The UK’s court system is already under strain with long delays. If this bill becomes law, costs and delays will increase, meaning that only those with deep pockets can re-litigate settled principles. A sense of certainty in the law will be lost.

An attack on working women

This is a double whammy for women’s rights at work. Protections for working women have been developed over decades through a mixture of EU legislation, UK legislation and case law. Separating out those decisions will reverse years of progress for women.

For example, the ability to make equal pay claims for work of equal value done by different sexes, along with the clarity that the case law has brought to this area over many years, will dissolve entirely.

The removal of part-time and fixed-term contract protections, maternity and pregnancy protections, and the removal of family friendly policies that seek to ensure that childcare is not a ‘women’s issue’ alone, is an attack on all working women.

Since the bill was announced, UNISON has heard from hundreds of concerned members, who said what life was like at work before improvements to maternity, paternity and parental leave.

One member commented: “I was working in the 1970s when the men in the office were paid more than the women for doing the same job. Never again!”

Every response had the same message they want me to tell MPs: leave the rights of workers alone unless you are improving them.

The country has seen the chaos that the government have brought to our economy – now they want to tear up certainty in the workplace and in our courts. This cannot be allowed to happen. In the inspiring words of a UNISON member, if the government persists, they must be stopped.

“Remember fighting for the rights of women to vote and Emily Pankhurst? We will all be Emilys!”

If you are concerned about the Retained EU Law Bill, you can have your say here.

The article Blog: The EU law bill – a Halloween nightmare from Downing Street first appeared on the UNISON National site.

The Retained EU Law Bill: An attack on working women

Many core workplace protections – holiday pay, maternity pay and equal pay for women and men – come from the European Union. For decades, EU laws have ensured decent working standards in the UK, shielding workers from exploitation and discrimination. 

As a trade union working to tackle exploitation, protect working people and to promote decent pay and work, UNISON is horrified about the proposals contained in the Retained EU Law Bill.

Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has introduced the Bill as the final stage of the UK’s departure from the EU. It has set a fast-moving conveyor belt in motion, which will see many workers’ protections automatically vanish in December 2023 unless the government elects to produce new UK laws. 

Many of these basic protections are those workers take for granted, including:

  • Holidays: being allowed to take paid annual leave – leaving only a minimum entitlement of 8 bank holidays for UK workers;
  • Equal pay: being able to challenge your boss if a member of the opposite sex gets paid more for doing the same job.
  • Family friendly policies: being paid for maternity, paternity and parental leave along with any protections against unfair treatment, such as being sacked or being overlooked for promotion, when taking such leave;
  • Rest breaks: the right to have a rest break of 20 minutes when working over six hours and the right to have a two day break every fortnight;
  • Pregnancy protections: protections against discrimination for pregnant women and women on maternity leave, and the right to suitable alternative work on no less favourable terms;
  • Security if your job is outsourced: outsourced workers can have their pay cut, sick and holiday pay and leave cut, and they don’t even need to be informed and consulted before a transfer. Outsourced workers could simply be sacked if their employment is taken over by a new organisation;
  • Safety at work: removal of support and paid time off for health and safety reps, whose role it is to protect and keep people safe at work;
  • Fire and rehire: removal of the few existing protections against fire and rehire and mass redundancy.

Without these core protections, UK workers – especially women – will be thrown back to the 1950s. Without the shield of EU law, workers in the UK will be exposed to an Americanised, hire-and-fire culture that makes work more insecure and dangerous.

The bill will smash a wrecking ball through decades of hard-won protections for women in the workplace, such as removing the ability to make claims for equal pay for work of equal value.

It will also remove ‘family-friendly’ policies that support working parents, which seek to ensure that childcare is not a ‘women’s issue’ but can be shared through parental leave and paternity leave.

These rights have developed through a mixture of legislation and legal decisions by courts. 

Over the years, UNISON’s specialist in-house legal team has secured important and groundbreaking legal changes for workers in the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice, which includes successfully bringing down the government’s unlawful Employment Tribunal fees regime.

UNISON head of legal services Shantha David said: “At midnight on 1 January 2024, a great number of crucial employment rights developed over the last 50 years will disappear.  The UK government helped to formulate these laws as a member of the EU.

“We have brought challenges which have established legal principles creating certainty for workers and their employers. But now, in the name of ‘red tape’ these hard fought legal principles will disappear. We see this for what it is: an attack on workers.”

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “At a time when working people are experiencing huge financial pressures and uncertainties, we need stability and support – not a bonfire of workers’ rights.

“This Government doesn’t have any mandate to strip away paid holidays, health and safety protections or to roll back rights that support working parents.

“This bill is an attack on all working women. Jacob Rees-Mogg is determined to throw women back to the 50s – without any maternity or pregnancy rights, without equal pay, and without any right to remain in the workplace.

“UNISON, and the 1.3 million people who make up our membership, will not stand to let this happen.”

Will you help UNISON fight to secure workers' protections?

UNISON is campaigning to secure workers' protections in the Retained EU Law Bill, and wants workers’ voices to reach the heart of government. Please answer as little or as much as you can to the following questions.

The article The Retained EU Law Bill: An attack on working women first appeared on the UNISON National site.