Toggle high contrast

Empty promises aren't enough – we need a Brexit deal that protects jobs and has binding guarantees on employment rights

Author
Published date
Warm words about improving rights post-Brexit won't cut it – to guarantee their rights working people need substantial changes to Mrs May's entire deal
Prime Minister Thersa May holding a folder
The Prime Minister's vague promises on post-Brexit workers' rights aren't enough

After suffering the heaviest parliamentary defeat on record, Theresa May is scrambling to save her Brexit deal.

Instead of reconsidering her own red lines, she’s trying to portray herself as a champion of workers’ rights.

We’ve consistently set out our key tests for a Brexit deal that protects rights, jobs and peace. People at work need a deal that:

  • Provides a binding guarantee that UK workers’ rights will not fall behind those of workers in Europe, now and for generations into the future
  • Protects jobs by providing tariff-free, barrier-free, frictionless trade with the rest of Europe
  • Preserves peace by ensuring there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

While the PM has finally engaged with trade unions on this issue, she has not made any changes to her deal. It still puts workers’ jobs and rights at real risk.

We’re clear that warm words and tweaks aren’t enough. Only substantial changes to the entire deal will guarantee workers decent employment rights and protect jobs.

And at this late stage in negotiations, the best way to make sure this happens is probably a future relationship with the EU where the UK stays in the customs union and the single market.

This is the sort of shift the Prime Minister needs to make if she’s serious about winning trade union support and bringing home a deal that delivers for people at work.

A dubious record

Following the monumental defeat of her Brexit deal, the Prime Minister claimed that UK workers “already benefit from some of the most rigorous workplace standards in the world, including parental leave and pay entitlements”.

But this doesn’t reflect the reality of working life for too many people in the UK – and it certainly doesn’t reflect the Tory record on rights since coming to power in 2010.

After all, over the past nine years we’ve seen numerous attacks on working people’s rights. These include:

  • A failure to take meaningful action to tackle insecure work.

Despite a protracted review looking at exploitation in the gig economy (and other areas), the government still won’t even ban the use of zero hours contracts.

  • The unlawful introduction of employment tribunal fees.

This made access to justice through a tribunal unaffordable for thousands of low paid workers (and was only overturned when Unison proved in court that the government had acted illegally).

  • Extending the qualifying period for unfair dismissal protection to make it easier for employers to fire people.

This change to the law made 2.7m workers more vulnerable to being sacked for no good reason.

  • Making it harder for working people to get access to justice when they’ve been discriminated against at work.

For example, the government changed employment tribunal procedures so that employees lost the right to gather information from their employer about possible discrimination.

It also needlessly took away the ability of employment tribunals to challenge discriminatory cultures in workplaces. Employment tribunals used to be able to do this by making recommendations to employers.

  • Introducing the Trade Union Act to restrict the ability of union members to organise collectively in defence of their jobs and livelihoods.

And even when unions have succeeded in winning rights for workers, it’s often been in the teeth of Tory opposition.

Your rights at risk

The TUC has been clear all along that Mrs May’s approach to Brexit is putting workers’ rights at risk.

So many of our rights and protections at work come from the EU – and our legal advice shows that rights such as properly paid holidays, protection for agency workers and protection for pregnant women would all be at risk.

But the UK government has been arguing against new proposed European rights for parents, claiming they are too expensive.

Our government also abstained in a European vote on giving new rights to posted workers (EU migrant workers who are posted temporarily to work in another member state).

And Theresa May actually voted against some of the “rigorous workplace standards” that she refers to, including parental leave.

We also know that some senior Conservatives – who might be jostling for the top job in the future – have been clear that they want to use Britain’s exit from the EU to roll back these rights, not improve them.

And you don’t need to look any further than the Brexit deal the PM has negotiated to see how her government’s approach to employment rights is still the same.

  • As soon as we leave (and enter the transition period), the government intends to stop giving UK workers new EU rights, including new rights to paid time off for carers and dads.
  • There are no binding guarantees in the deal that UK workers’ rights will fully keep pace with workers in Europe. Whatever the PM says today about new domestic laws on employment rights is meaningless – without a Brexit deal that binds future UK governments to maintain minimum European standards, future generations could find their rights disappear.
  • And there are no meaningful enforcement measures in the deal to for employment rights. Even the limited commitments the deal does include are enforced far more weakly than other areas.

Without substantial changes to Mrs May's entire deal, working people’s rights remain at high risk.

A simple truth

This all boils down to one simple truth: the Tories simply can’t be trusted on workers’ rights.

That’s why the Prime Minister’s sudden change of heart on post-Brexit rights should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.

Unless the Prime Minister substantially shifts her red lines, this deal will fail people at work. And that's why trade unions won't support it.