TUC Parliamentary Briefing: European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

The Committee Stage on the EU Withdrawal Bill is due to commence in the House of Lords on 21 February 2018.
In summary, the Bill will:
• Repeal the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA 1972), which underpins the UK’s membership
of the European Union on ‘exit day’ – currently set to be 29 March 2019 at 11.00 p.m.
• Retain EU law as part of UK law we leave the EU, much of which would otherwise disappear
overnight when the ECA 1972 is repealed.
• Mean that EU-derived equality, employment and health and safety standards will remain in
place on the day we leave the EU. But there is nothing in the Bill to prevent a future
government from repealing or watering down workers’ rights in the future.
• Mean the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights would no longer form part of UK law when we
leave the EU. Individuals would no longer be able to rely on the general principles of EU or to
seek damages from the government if it removes or weakens their EU derived rights.
• Create unprecedented powers for Ministers to amend, repeal or weaken retained EU law
including Acts of Parliament, without the need for full Parliamentary scrutiny.
• End the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) in the UK.
-  UK courts will continue to take decisions of ECJ judgements made before exit day into
account when interpreting retained EU law.
-  But UK courts will not be required to follow new ECJ decisions made on or after exit day.

Outline of TUC views:
As we prepare to leave the European Union, the TUC is determined that workers’ rights, jobs and livelihoods must be protected. Working people and our communities should not pay a price for Brexit. Central to these aims is the need to protect all the workplace rights which have been hard won by workers and their unions through our membership of the EU.

These include equality laws protecting women, BME, LGBT+ and disabled workers from
discrimination at work; rights to time off for working parents; holiday pay and protections from excessive working hours; equal treatment rights for part-time, fixed term and agency workers; information and consultation rights and health and safety standards.

The TUC is concerned that these rights will be at risk when the UK leaves the EU.

The government has promised that employment rights from the EU will be protected and even
enhanced after Brexit. Ministers point to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill as the vehicle by which these rights are to be incorporated or retained in UK law once we leave the EU.

But, the TUC is concerned the Bill will not provide any effective protection for workers’ rights.
Instead it would provide Ministers with wide-ranging powers to repeal, dilute or limit hardwon
employment rights.

Recent statements by senior ministers also suggest that plans are already being put in place to
scrap the Working Time Regulations, which provide key rights to holiday pay, rest breaks, and
protection from excessive working hours. And this could just be the start, with rights for agency workers and outsourced workers being other potential early targets.

There is also a genuine risk the rights of UK workers will not keep pace with developments in EU equality and employment law – delivered through future EU standards or decisions of the ECJ.

EU negotiations and workers’ rights
It is vital that, after Brexit, UK employment law should be provided the strongest possible legal
protections to ensure that workers’ rights in the UK cannot fall behind their counterparts in
Europe. The UK government will of course retain the ability to improve workers’ rights in the
future. But it is also important that any deal with the EU guarantees all workers can continue to
enjoy not only the existing safety net of standards but also future improvements in EU
employment rights.

Having tested all the available options for a trade deal against that requirement, the TUC
continues to believe that staying in the single market after we leave the EU is currently the only
realistic option that will provide a long-term guarantee for rights at work for which working
people and their unions have campaigned long and hard. And it would protect jobs too.

It is worrying that the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU has pointed to the EU-Canada
Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) as the initial basis for a future UK-EU
trade agreement. The TUC campaigned against the ratification of CETA, because it put protecting the rights of big corporations and foreign investors ahead of those of ordinary working people. Such agreements provide no guarantee for hard-won rights like equal pay for women, fair redundancies, time off for family emergencies and equal rights for part-time, fixed-term and agency workers.

While the TUC accepts that the single market and the customs union are not perfect, our analysis clearly shows that they are far better for workers’ jobs and rights than any other trade models. If the government is serious about protecting and enhancing workers’ rights, then it should ensure all options remain on the table during negotiations on a future agreement between the UK and the EU.

Signing up to a guarantee on employment standards in any future UK-EU deal would also provide a level playing field for workers’ rights, would stop unfair competition and ensure good employers are not undercut by the bad.

Similarly, the withdrawal agreement must confirm that EU employment law will continue to apply in the UK throughout any transition period. This will provide much asked for certainty for
business and reassurance for working people that their rights will be protected.

Priorities for Amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill
Alongside seeking to influence the outcome of negotiations with the EU, the TUC believes that the EU Withdrawal Bill needs to be amended to provide increased protection for employment law.

The TUC has identified three priority areas for changes to the Bill. These are:
• Retaining the existing framework of employment and equality laws together with the same
health and safety standards as we leave the EU.
• Ensuring that in the future workers’ rights are not weakened and that UK standards do not fall behind those of our European partners.
• Ensuring Parliament can fully scrutinise any changes to workers’ rights – including employment law, equality rights and health and safety standards. It would therefore be helpful if Peers supported amendments which
• Rule out the use of delegated powers in the Bill to amend employment law, equality law and
health and safety standards.
• Ensure that any future changes to employment law, equality law and health and safety
standards would require an Act of Parliament, therefore ensuring Parliament can fully scrutinise and decide on any proposed changes.
• Ensure that UK courts have regard to both existing and new ECJ decisions once the UK leaves the EU.
• Retain the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as part of UK law.
• Ensure that individuals can continue to bring free-standing legal challenges in UK courts on the basis that UK law breaches the principles of EU law. 

Reading the briefing in full here. 

Malene Bratlie