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  • O’Grady will call on the prime minister to commit to putting workers’ rights in the final agreement.
  • Leading employment lawyer Michael Ford QC will warn the UK’s “floor of rights” could be “stripped bare” after Brexit.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady will today (Wednesday) speak at an event in Brussels about the impact of Brexit on workers’ rights.

Frances will use her address to European politicians, businesses and trade unions to call for Theresa May to stand up to the “cliff-edge Brexiteers” in her party.

On workers’ rights, Frances will say:

“Theresa May promises that workers’ rights will be “protected and enhanced” after Brexit. But unions are sceptical – with good reason.

“We know that there are many Conservatives who would like nothing better than a bonfire of working rights, environmental regulations and safety standards.

“The cliff-edge Brexiteers have key rights in their sights – including protections for agency workers, action against discrimination, and health and safety.

“Rules like these transformed working life in Britain for the better. Millions of workers got paid holiday for the first time, parents got more time to spend with their children, women got paid the same as their male co-workers.

“Rights like these must not be used as bargaining chips.

“So, I want to issue a simple challenge to the Prime Minister. Keep your promise to the British people.

“No one voted for worse rights at work. So stand up to the hardliners in your party and give working people the guarantee they need.

“The EU has said that workers’ rights should be part of the final agreement – now the UK government should do the same. Commit to ensuring that no matter what kind of Brexit we get, workers’ rights in the UK will keep pace with those across Europe.”

On the Good Friday Agreement, Frances will say:

“Exactly twenty years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, I’ve been shocked by the cavalier approach ministers have taken to the peace process.

“We cannot allow the views of pro-Brexit hardliners to take precedence over peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland.

“We must protect the social rights which underpin the Good Friday Agreement and broader peace process. And which underpin the economy on the island of Ireland.”

On membership of the single market and customs union, Frances will say:

“The UK government has committed a historic and strategic error by ruling out membership of the single market and customs union.

“As it becomes clearer by the day how much we would stand to lose by leaving the single market, politicians must put people’s jobs and livelihoods first.

“If there’s a better plan than remaining in the Single Market, then let’s hear it.

“But until then, the TUC will be on the UK government’s case.”

Professor Michael Ford QC, a leading employment lawyer, will also speak at the event. On the legal status of workers’ rights after Brexit he will say:

“After Brexit, the many workers' rights derived from EU law will have no privileged legal status whatsoever, and so can quickly be repealed, amended or adjusted by the government of the day.

“The laws will be interpreted by the domestic courts, which lack any tradition of fundamental social rights; and the rights will no longer benefit from important EU principles such as effective remedies.

“The floor of rights which has been carefully constructed over the last forty years could be stripped bare at any time".


Notes to editors:

  • Frances is speaking at an event organised by AK EUROPA, the Brussels office of the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour and ÖGB Europabüro, the Brussels office of the Austrian Trade Union Federation. Other speakers include Professor Michael Ford QC from the University of Bristol Law School, Erich Foglar, the president of the Austrian Trade Union Federation and Barbara Spinelli MEP. Esther Lynch, Confederal Secretary of the ETUC will act as moderator.
  • In Theresa May’s speech on the government’s Brexit negotiating objectives in January 2017, she said: “A fairer Britain is a country that protects and enhances the rights people have at work. Indeed, under my leadership, not only will the government protect the rights of workers set out in European legislation, we will build on them.” (Full speech is here:
  • Ahead of the EU referendum, Michael Ford QC produced an independent legal opinion, commissioned by the TUC, on the impact of Brexit on workers' rights. His report is available here:
  • The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 49 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.
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