Umunna calls on PM to protect British workers and keep employment rights that will fall away after Brexit

A series of vital rights which protect people at work will be lost when Britain leaves the European Union, new research by the House of Commons library has found, unless fresh domestic legislation is passed.

Vote Leave Watch Chair Chuka Umunna MP today has called on the Prime Minister to commit to pass new legislation to keep all those workers’ rights currently protected by EU law when Britain leaves the EU. He is supported by John Hannett, General Secretary of the USDAW trade union, who today joins Vote Leave Watch as a patron.

Vote Leave repeatedly promised during the EU referendum that Brexit would not lead to a reduction in rights for British workers. So Mr Umunna has commissioned the independent House of Commons library to carry out research into which employment rights currently arise due to our membership of the European Union that will fall away when we leave.

The European Communities Act 1972 provides for EU law in certain areas, including employment law, to take primacy over and be incorporated into UK domestic law. This Act would need to be repealed following the UK’s departure from the EU. However, a large component of employment law has been made by way of Regulations under section 2 of the Act, which would cease to have affect if the Act were repealed. According to the House of Commons Library, employment rights affected include:

  • the right to annual leave, and daily and weekly rest breaks under Working Time Regulations,
  • the right to equal treatment for agency workers after 12 weeks service,
  • protection against unfair dismissal upon a transfer of undertakings,
  • paid time off for health and safety representatives, and
  • regulations protecting young people at work.

British workers could also lose out on European Court judgments which have protected workers, including a recent judgment on holiday pay, while protections against discrimination could be weakened.

Furthermore, some British laws which replicate protections delivered by EU law were opposed by members of the current government, including the Prime Minister, when they were introduced. This includes the Equality Act 2010, which guarantees a swathe of protections against discrimination in the workplace. Theresa May led the opposition in parliament to the Equality Act when it passed through the House of Commons in 2009.

Today Mr Umunna, who practiced as an employment solicitor before entering parliament, has written to PM Theresa May, calling on her to confirm that the UK government will:

  • Ensure, if necessary by passing primary legislation, that all employment rights currently dependent on EU law remain in place post-Brexit;
  • Conduct an audit of all instances where decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union have delivered further rights for British workers, and commit to ensure that the government will retain these judgments post-Brexit;
  • Make absolutely clear its full support for British legislation that delivers rights for working people also enshrined in EU law, such as the Equality Act 2010.

In his letter to Theresa May, Chuka Umunna MP says:

“You have said repeatedly that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. But you must now begin to set out what this means. You owe it to the working people of Britain to make clear that the pledges made by your cabinet colleagues to retain EU legislation on workers’ rights will be delivered.

“Anything else will be a betrayal of British workers, whether they voted to leave the EU or to remain a member. Do the right thing by the working people of Britain, and commit unequivocally to protecting the rights on which dignity at work depends.”

Commenting on the House of Commons research, Patron of Vote Leave Watch, John Hannett, General-Secretary of USDAW, said:

“Being part of the EU has protected British workers, my members among them, from discrimination, unscrupulous bosses, and the worst excesses of Tory governments.

“The Prime Minister came to office talking a good game about standing up for working people. She now has to walk the walk – and the first part of that should be guaranteeing that every single right for workers delivered by the European Union will stay in place.

“Anything less would be a betrayal of British workers, especially given the promises that were made on employment rights by members of the Vote Leave campaign. Every worker and trade unionist in Britain urgently needs clarity on this vital issue.”

/ends

Full letter from Chuka Umunna to Theresa May

Dear Prime Minister.

I write to you on behalf of the millions of British working people who depend on European law for their rights at work. You will know that from equal treatment at work for agency workers to rules limiting working time, and even equal pay for men and women, EU law protects British workers against mistreatment, danger and discrimination every single day.

I expect that you recognise this, as you campaigned for Britain to remain a member of the European Union. And we know that your cabinet colleagues from the Vote Leave campaign, including Boris Johnson, David Davis, Priti Patel, Chris Grayling, and Andrea Leadsom, promised the  British people that a vote for Brexit would not lead to any diminution in the rights enjoyed by British working people.

When colleagues like your Secretary of State for Transport and close ally Chris Grayling said “let me make clear I do not want to see social rights and protections diminished if we vote to leave the EU”, it is clear that preserving workers’ rights was a key part of the prospectus which the British people voted for on June 23rd. Therefore, your government must act to honour this commitment.

Doing so must take three forms.

Firstly, the government must begin planning to pass legislation to replace EU laws that will cease to apply to the UK upon Brexit, such as the Working Time Directive.

Secondly, the government must conduct a thorough audit of all instances where decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union have created greater legal employment rights for British workers. When this process is completed, the government must commit to enshrine these rights in law.

Thirdly, you must make clear your support for UK legislation on workers’ rights that duplicates rights delivered by EU law. For example, you led your party’s opposition to the Equality Act 2010, which delivers key rights such as equal pay. Working people, whether they voted Leave or Remain, did not vote for the Conservative party to repeal vital rights delivered by the last Labour government.

You have said repeatedly that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. But you must now begin to set out what this means. You owe it to the working people of Britain to make clear that the pledges made by your cabinet colleagues to retain EU legislation on workers’ rights will be delivered. Anything else will be a betrayal of British workers, whether they voted to leave the EU or to remain a member. Do the right thing by the working people of Britain, and commit unequivocally to protecting the rights on which dignity at work depends.

Yours sincerely,

Chuka Umunna MP