This isn’t the punchline to a niche cracker joke.
If a Bill currently being considered by Parliament becomes law, these rights and protections – and many more - could be swept away at the stroke of midnight on 1 January 2024.
What is the retained EU Law Bill, and why does it matter?
While the brief tenure of Liz Truss’s government is rapidly fading into a niche quiz question, the damaging Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill lives on.
A range of employment and health and safety rights are derived from, or reinforced by, EU law.
These rights were maintained as ‘retained EU law’ when the UK left the European Union. Parliament can already amend or scrap these measures.
This Bill overturns this approach by revoking automatically from the end of 2023:
all EU-derived legislation that was incorporated into UK law via regulations (such as the Working Time Regulations)
retained direct EU legislation (such as the treaty provisions that enabled female supermarket workers to claim equal pay)
The supremacy of EU law when it comes to making decisions in UK courts would also be ended by this bill.
This matters because a host of rights that workers have long fought for could be lost.
Agency worker rights
Data protection rights
Protections of terms and conditions for workers whose employment is transferred to another employer (known as TUPE)
Collective consultation with worker representatives when redundancies are proposed
Protection of pregnant workers, and rights to maternity and parental leave
Protection of part-time and fixed-term workers
Rights relating to working time, including rights to daily and weekly rest, maximum weekly working time, paid annual leave and measures to protect night workers
Protection of workers’ rights on the insolvency of their employer
Rights to a written statement of terms and conditions.
In addition to this, significant health and safety rights, notably the so-called “six pack” set of regulations including the main set of regulations in this area, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and others covering the likes of manual handling and the use of protective equipment, would be at risk.
This is before we get into the thousands of laws relating to wildlife, animal protection and protection of the natural environment that have their roots in EU law.
This isn’t just wrong – it could cause chaos
Ministers could restate or replace the secondary legislation that is due to expire. UK ministers can also further delay the sunsetting until 23 June 2026.
But ministers are not even sure which laws this Bill applies to.
It isn’t clear that civil servants have the time to properly work on replacement laws before the end of 2023.
And scrutiny will be low: Parliament hasn’t rejected a regulation since 1979.
Even if legislation is retained, decades-worth of case law would be upended. This would make the interpretation of the law highly uncertain and likely lead to greater reliance on the already over-stretched courts and tribunal system.
The union movement is fighting back
The TUC has worked closely with a broad coalition of environmental, legal, civic society and even employer groups to get across our message that this Bill needs to be withdrawn.
So compelling is this alliance our joint letter with groups include the Institute of Directors and Greener UK (which brings together the likes of the National Trust and RSPB) was the front page splash of the Financial Times and featured widely across the media.
The TUC provided oral and written evidence to the Bill committee in the House of Commons, focusing on the potential impact on working people.
During our November lobby of Parliament union members asked MPs to defend the vital rights that are risk.
The TUC gave evidence to MPs, business and academics on the Trade and Business Commission on the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, highlighting in particular that the bill, by undermining the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, could end up with the EU levying tariffs on UK exports.
But we also need union members to make their voices heard. Please write to your MP asking about their view on the bill here https://actionnetwork.org/letters/dont-rip-up-key-workplace-protections/?source=unions
Together, we can defeat this damaging bill and protect workers’ hard-won rights.
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