Retained EU Law Bill: UNISON gives expert evidence in Parliament

Head of legal services, Shantha David, presented UNISON’s submission, telling the committee that the bill “will strip out some very basic employment rights.”

Shantha David

In its rush to finalise Brexit, the government plans to axe over 2,400 laws by the end of next year – all because they originated in the EU. Today UNISON, which represents over 1.3 million workers in the UK, gave expert evidence to Parliament on the devastating impact this will have on basic workers’ protections.

The controversial Retained EU Law Bill, introduced by Jacob Rees-Mogg, has set a fast-moving conveyor belt in motion, which will see all protections for workers and UK citizens that come from EU law fall off a cliff in December 2023, unless the government decides to produce new and equivalent UK laws. This deadline is referred to as the “sunset’ date for EU law.

Many core workplace protections – including 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.

UNISON has warned that removing EU laws amounts to a bonfire of workers’ rights

Giving evidence to the Retained EU Law Bill committee in Parliament today, UNISON’s head of legal services Shantha David (pictured) gave examples of ten key EU laws that UNISON has identified are at risk.

The removal of these laws would impact on very basic workers’ rights such as annual leave, maternity and paternity protections to things such as TUPE protections during outsourcing.

Ms David said: “If these provisions are sunsetted, it will strip out some very basic employment rights.”

One of the rights that was discussed at length was statutory annual leave, and the fact that, without EU law, UK workers may be left with only eight bank holidays as their minimum annual leave entitlement.

Ms David explained: “The UK allows for, through the EU-derived provision, twenty days of statutory annual leave. That will no longer survive if this provision is sunsetted.”

Ms David also pointed out how working women stand to be most affected by the removal of EU laws, not just when it comes to maternity and pregnancy protections. If we lose the EU regulations that protect part-time and fixed-term workers, women will be most affected, given that they are more likely to be part-time and fixed-term.

In her evidence, Ms David also pointed out that the government still has not published a complete list of all affected legislation, despite the deadline being just over a year away: “We are talking about 2,400, even 3,800 pieces of legislation that are due to be sunsetted within a year, and I understand that they will simply go away next year unless something is done to replace them.”

Commenting on the government’s online dashboard, designed to identify laws that will be affected, Ms David said: “Unfortunately, the tableau doesn’t provide a full list of legislation that is due to go. Without knowing that, it is impossible to know what will stay and what will go.”

“We need to have a comprehensive list of the legislation that is due to be affected and once we have that, we can be consulted, so we can actually have our say on what we need to keep.”

Access to justice

UNISON also warned the committee that the Retained EU Law Bill will cause chaos in the legal system by removing the clarity and certainty that EU law provides to UK courts. This will make it harder for workers to challenge their employers.

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.

Furthermore, earlier this year, UNISON intervened in a case where the UK Supreme Court relied on the EU Working Time Directive to rule on the correct interpretation of a term-time worker’s right to paid holiday.

The Retained EU Law Bill asks UK courts to depart from EU law and principles, which means that decades of legal judgements and case law will have to be reargued. This will prove costly for both workers and employers bringing and defending claims, and will cause delays.

Ms David explained: “The only way to clarify legislation as we go along, and to get certainty in the law, will be via litigation. And litigation is costly, and pursuing appeals in the senior courts will take a long time because of the delays, given that tribunals and lower courts will no longer be bound by Retained EU Law.”

She continued: “The difficulty we have here is the speed at which this is happening. It’s about being able to have a considered view on the employment provisions that exist for workers, and ensure we aren’t mired in litigation. The costs of litigation are profound.”

The UK’s court system is already under strain, with workers having to wait years for their case to be heard. UNISON is concerned that the Retained EU Law Bill will further increase costs and delays, meaning that only those with deep pockets can re-litigate settled principles. 

These financial barriers present a direct threat to the ability of the lowest-paid workers, who are most vulnerable to exploitation, to challenge discrimination or unfair treatment at work. It will also place a huge strain on the justice system.

The Retained EU Law Bill in its current form provides no clarity or confirmation from government on which EU laws will be maintained in the UK law books, and which workers’ protections will still stand in place.

Ms David said: “If it is the government’s intention not to get rid of workers’ rights and legislation that protects employees, then it would be a lot simpler to set out what is protected.”

Watch Ms David give evidence to the committee

To read more about the Retained EU Law Bill, visit