The Retained EU Law Bill: An attack on working women

“Jacob Rees-Mogg is determined to throw women back to the ’70s. UNISON, and the 1.3 million people who make up our membership, will not stand to let this happen”

Graphic representation of five silhouette heads of diverse women

Many core workplace protections – holiday pay, maternity pay and equal pay for women and men – come from the European Union. For decades, EU laws have ensured decent working standards in the UK, shielding workers from exploitation and discrimination. 

As a trade union working to tackle exploitation, protect working people and to promote decent pay and work, UNISON is horrified about the proposals contained in the Retained EU Law Bill.

Business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has introduced the bill as the final stage of the UK’s departure from the EU. It has set a fast-moving conveyor belt in motion, which will see many workers’ protections automatically vanish in December 2023, unless the government decides to produce new and equivalent UK laws. 

Many of these basic protections are those workers take for granted, including:

  • holidays: being allowed to take paid annual leave – leaving only a minimum entitlement of eight bank holidays for UK workers;
  • equal pay: being able to challenge your employer if a member of the opposite sex gets paid more for doing the same job;
  • family friendly policies: being paid for maternity, paternity and parental leave along with any protections against unfair treatment, such as being sacked or being overlooked for promotion, when taking such leave;
  • rest breaks: the right to have a rest break of 20 minutes when working over six hours and the right to have a two-day break every fortnight;
  • pregnancy protections: protections against discrimination for pregnant women and women on maternity leave, and the right to suitable alternative work on no less favourable terms;
  • security if your job is outsourced: outsourced workers can have their pay cut, sick and holiday pay and leave cut, and they don’t even need to be informed and consulted before a transfer. Outsourced workers could simply be sacked if their employment is taken over by a new organisation;
  • safety at work: removal of support and paid time off for health and safety reps, whose role it is to protect and keep people safe at work;
  • fire and rehire: removal of the few existing protections against fire and rehire and mass redundancy.

Without these core protections, UK workers – especially women – will be thrown back to the 1970s. Without the shield of EU law, workers in the UK will be exposed to an Americanised, hire-and-fire culture that makes work more insecure and dangerous.

The bill will smash a wrecking ball through decades of hard-won protections for women in the workplace, such as removing the ability to make claims for equal pay for work of equal value.

It will also remove ‘family-friendly’ policies that support working parents, which seek to ensure that childcare is not a ‘women’s issue’ but can be shared through parental leave and paternity leave.

These rights have developed through a mixture of legislation and legal decisions by courts. 

Over the years, UNISON’s specialist in-house legal team has secured important and groundbreaking legal changes for workers in the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice, including successfully bringing down the government’s unlawful employment tribunal fees regime.

UNISON head of legal services Shantha David said: “At midnight on 1 January 2024, a great number of crucial employment rights developed over the last 50 years will disappear. The UK government helped to formulate these laws as a member of the EU.

“We have brought challenges which have established legal principles creating certainty for workers and their employers. But now, in the name of ‘red tape’ these hard fought legal principles will disappear. We see this for what it is: an attack on workers.”

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “At a time when working people are experiencing huge financial pressures and uncertainties, we need stability and support – not a bonfire of workers’ rights.

“This government doesn’t have any mandate to strip away paid holidays, health and safety protections or to roll back rights that support working parents.

“This bill is an attack on all working women. Jacob Rees-Mogg is determined to throw women back to the ’70s. UNISON, and the 1.3 million people who make up our membership, will not stand to let this happen.”

Will you help UNISON fight to secure workers' protections?

UNISON is campaigning to secure workers' protections in the Retained EU Law Bill, and wants workers’ voices to reach the heart of government. Please answer as little or as much as you can to the following questions.

For more information, read the UNISON activist briefing on the Retained EU Law Bill here.