Protect Workers’ Rights



On Monday 25 January, Members of Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on an Opposition Day debate motion to protect employment rights. This is a key measure for protecting workers rights in the UK. Watering down the rights we have would risk the health and safety of UK workers.

This is the first vote on workers’ rights outside of the EU. This will provide an indication of what kind of country we want to be outside the EU. We have an opportunity to demonstrate that the UK is taking steps to be a world leader in protecting workers’ rights.

The European Movement calls on MPs to support this motion and to vote in favour.

What workers’ rights are under threat?

Many workers’ rights in the UK are derived from EU law. Following the business secretary’s admission that the government is to carry out a post-Brexit review of UK workers’ rights, these rights are at risk.

On Monday, MPs will vote on a motion to protect:

  • The working time directive governing the maximum working week;
  • The legal right to rest breaks at work; and
  • The inclusion of overtime in how holiday pay is calculated, which if ended would leave workers hundreds of pounds out of pocket.

What would weakening the working time regulations mean for workers?

Weakening the working time regulations will have a significant impact on UK workers. The working time regulations mean that:

  • Workers have rights to daily and weekly rest and four weeks’ paid annual leave;
  • Workers under the age of 18 cannot work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week, which prevents young people being exploited;
  • Key workers like lorry drivers, airline staff and care workers are legally protected from working excessive hours – if laws on the maximum 48-hour week are scrapped, it risks their safety and could prove fatal;
  • The 48-hour limit gives low-paid workers protection from being pressured to work longer than they wanted.

Other regulations and directives that are under threat include:

The EU Health and Safety Framework Directive: This requires employers to assess, and act to reduce, workplace risks. Other rules cover issues such as disability, noise and specific regulations for staff working with chemicals, asbestos or other potential hazards. The TUC suggests 41 of the 65 new health and safety regulations introduced in the UK between 1997 and 2009 came from EU laws. Many health and safety regulations as well as ongoing improvements such as those regarding asbestos, stress, musculo-skeletal health and safety, and the carcinogens and mutagens directive, have been opposed by those in favour of leaving the EU, and are also at potential risk.

The Temporary Agency Work Directive: Implemented by the Agency Workers Regulation 2010, this lays down the principle of non-discrimination, regarding the essential conditions of work and of employment, between temporary workers and workers who are recruited by the user company. This regulation has been already been greatly watered down by the UK and is likely to be repealed by the government. At risk are the 12-week qualifying period for equal treatment which includes rights on pay, holidays and working time entitlements after 12 weeks in the same role with the same employer; and rights to equal treatment from day one in access to collective facilities and information on vacancies in the hirer’s workplace.

The Part-Time Work Directive and Fixed-Term Work Directive: These are designed to achieve a better balance between flexibility in working time and security for workers. It requires that part-time and fixed-term workers’ employment conditions may not be less favourable than those of comparable full-time workers unless there are objective reasons for different treatment. It also protects them against discrimination. These have been implemented in a very minimalist way by the UK and are at risk of being repealed in the future.

Equality directives: The Equal Treatment Directive, Employment Equality Directive, Framework Directive, Pregnant Workers Directive and Parental Leave Directive are also all at risk. These cover many rights, including the right to equal treatment and non-discrimination at work, the right not to be sacked when pregnant, and the right to at least four months’ paid parental leave.

As well as ensuring that leaving the EU does not threaten existing workers’ rights, Parliament should commit to matching or exceeding EU progress on protecting workers’ rights. Only then will the UK be a world leader in workers’ rights.

For example, the EU recently adopted the Work-Life Balance Directive, which brings in the right to a guaranteed minimum five days’ carers’ leave; extends the right to request flexible working arrangements; and enhances parental leave rights. The Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive has also recently become law in the EU – it aims to ensure workers in non-standard and new forms of work such as those on zero-hour contracts, in casual work, and ‘gig economy’ platform work have the same rights as other workers.

We urge MPs to have ambitions not just to protect our current offer for British workers, but to keep pace or exceed EU legislation so that the UK’s workforce has the same or better safeguards as workers on the continent of Europe.

If you have any questions on this briefing, or other aspects of legislation related to leaving the European Union, please email [email protected]

ABOUT US: The European Movement is a grassroots organisation, with a community of tens of thousands of activists and 126 local groups across every nation and region of the UK. We are an independent all-party pressure group campaigning for a close relationship with the European Union, and to ensure that European values, standards and rights are upheld in British law post-Brexit.

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