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2018 National Women's Conference
28 September 2017

Conference there was much debate during the Referendum Campaign about returning power to the Parliament in Westminster if we voted to leave the EU. Control over our laws, it was argued, would be returned to our Houses of Parliament and all our laws would be debated by our democratically elected Members of Parliament. There was no debate that our democratic rights would be undermined. On the contrary we were told loud and clear that they would be strengthened not weakened.

The proposed Great Repeal Bill, which will repeal The European Communities Act 1972, is intended to put EU law into UK statute. The reality is that the Act when carried will not actually repeal at all it will convert EU law into UK law at the point of formal separation from the EU.

The Great Repeal Bill has been widely condemned because the Tory Government has seen fit to take this opportunity to include a procedure which fundamentally undermines the right of Parliament to scrutinise legislation, using a provision which dates back to Henry Vlll which he introduced in the Statute of Proclamations in 1539 known as the Henry Vlll Clause. This was a King who believed in the Divine Right of Kings and not the right of Parliament to scrutinise his actions or laws.

The Henry Vlll Clause allows the Government to appeal or amend an Act of Parliament by means of a secondary Act with limited or no further Parliamentary scrutiny. This has the potential to drastically undermine women’s rights, and the gains we have made over decades and generations many of them originating from European legislation. In particular the following:

Equal treatment

Equal pay

Equal pension rights

Maternity rights

Carers rights

Women’s health and safety at work

Sexual harassment at work

Part time and agency workers’ rights

Violence against women


National Women’s Conference knows all too well the legal cases that UNISON has taken and won for our women members who have relied not only on UK law but also European Law. The UK’s Equal Pay provisions were dramatically increased by the introduction of Equal Value and women’s pension rights through Equal Treatment, both under European Law. The enhancement to maternity and parental rights and the recognition of work life balance all came from Europe. Anti-discrimination law has been hugely impacted by European law. For us proud UNISON trade union women the protection of EU law has been fundamental to our rights at work but also to organise and campaign as trade unionists.

It is incumbent on us to fight against the Government’s grab for power in such a flagrant manner. This is a threat to our very democracy, from a party in government which has fought tooth and nail against equality and women’s rights.

We ask National Women’s Committee to:

• Work with the Nation Executive Committee and any other bodies within Unison to campaign to protect the rights of our women members as a consequence of the Great Repeal Bill;

• To work with UNISON’s Labour Link to enshrine women’s rights through our Parliamentary democratic rights;

• Work with our representatives on the Women’s TUC to protect women’s rights as trade unionists under the Great Repeal Bill.