EU Exit and Workers’ Rights

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2017 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2017

Conference notes the Conservative Government’s plans for Brexit which represent a significant risk for working people in the UK. The EU has played a key role in protecting workers from exploitation, inequality, hazards and discrimination, and in promoting good employment practices. The referendum result does make Brexit a reality and that democratic decision must be respected, however the trade union movement must now ensure that the Government does not use leaving Europe as an opportunity for deliver a bonfire of those established employment and equality rights.

Conference notes that when the UK leaves the European Union (EU) and re-negotiates a new EU relationship there is a real danger that workers’ rights, including, but not limited to health and safety, anti-discrimination and agency worker rights derived from EU law could be lost or watered down through the Great Repeal Bill process and the negotiation of new trade deals.

Conference further notes many current employment rights result from case law emanating from the European Court of Justice. It is vital that post-EU exit these rights are preserved, and if possible, enhanced.

Conference believes that employment rights must be protected in full and that any plan for Brexit must include a provision for investment in quality jobs and the protection of living standards. Furthermore, any trade deal with the EU and other major economies must include a fair deal for public services, rather than the threat of further privatisation represented in the now stalled Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations.

It has become clear the Tories’ vision for Brexit is of the UK acting as a low-tax, low-regulation haven for unscrupulous businesses. With no concrete plan for creating a stable economy – or how our public services will be properly funded – the need for stability and reassurance for working people has never been greater. Hard-working public sector workers from Europe who came to the UK to work for our NHS, schools and social care, must also be reassured they are welcome and can remain.

The North East is set to lose the most in terms of funding as a result of Brexit, having received £195.4 million in European Social Fund grants and £296.0 million in European Regional Development Fund grants. The combined total of these two figures is the equivalent of £189 per head over a seven-year period – the most money received by any region in the UK. Given the North East has already been on the receiving end of some of the deepest public sector cuts in the country (without the benefit of so-called sweetheart deals enjoyed by some parts of the country) the stakes could not be higher.

Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council to:

1) Ensure that UNISON plays a key stakeholder role in Brexit negotiations;

2) Campaign to ensure that the UK Government does not repeal any current rights guaranteed by the EU, or water down or dismantle trade union and worker rights;

3) Campaign to ensure the rights of existing EU workers to remain in the UK are protected, whilst ensuring movement of workers in the EU as a key reciprocal right in any agreement that allows UK access to the single market;

4) Work with regions to ensure engagement with MPs, MEPs,Councillors, citizens, employees, trade unions, employers and community organisations on alternative economic strategies that benefit working people in the region within the context of Brexit.

5) Work with the ETUC, TUC, STUC, WTUC and ICTU to review employment legislation that may be at risk;

6) Work with Labour Link to make sure the Labour Party fully understand the arguments around protecting and improving current employment rights;

7) Ensure political lobbying of MPs includes MPs and Lords of all parties, including the Conservative Party;

8) Work with MEPs and devolved parliamentary and assembly members to ensure that devolution issues are properly considered and full protections offered to devolved nations;

9) Work with our self organised groups so that equalities are at the heart of our response to post-EU exit issues around employment rights and health and safety;

10) Develop resources for branches to support them in their campaigning with our members and the wider public on why it is important to protect workers’ rights.