Retained EU Law Bill: UNISON demands Rishi Sunak guarantee workers’ protections

In a letter to the prime minister, Christina McAnea writes: ‘Government should be creating stability and certainty – not a bonfire of workers’ rights and decades of legal wrangling.’

Rishi Sunak

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea has written to prime minister Rishi Sunak to express the union’s concerns about the Retained EU Law Bill, and seek assurances on core workers’ protections.

The bill creates a countdown to the expiry of vital protections in the workplace by 31 December 2023, which will remove 3,800 pieces of EU-derived legislation in one fell swoop.

Ms McAnea accuses the government of placing “ideological principles above the lived, practical needs of the UK.”

The letter follows UNISON’s oral evidence to the parliamentary committee examining the bill, last week, which was presented by head of UNISON legal services Shantha David.

A key point of that evidence was the fact that, without a comprehensive list of what laws will be removed, it is unclear what will be retained or rewritten. Ms David told MPs: “Given the lack of information we have, it’s unclear what will survive and what will face the chop”.

Continuing in this vein, Ms McAnea writes: “The public is left to assume that all the following rights will disappear overnight: the right to an entitlement of 20 days’ annual leave, family friendly rights, protections from dismissal where employment is transferred/ outsourced, maternity, pregnancy, part-time and fixed term worker protections, as well as other core employment law protections including health and safety in the workplace for pregnant women.

“Workers and employers rely on these rights day in, day out. They are not luxuries, but the very foundation on which their working lives and their family time is built.”

The letter seeks guarantees on workers’ protections, specifically that the government:

  • removes workplace rights from of the scope of the bill altogether;
  • ensures reviews take place to identify all relevant legislation, for example the European Working Time Directive, and takes expert advice to ensure no dangerous mistakes are made;
  • amends the bill to change the 2023 sunset deadline to 2033, in order to give government departments due time for the review process to take place.

Ms McAnea concludes: “I believe the government should be focusing on the real problems our country faces and working to solve them, rather than taking away core rights at work.

“At a time when people are experiencing huge financial pressure and public services are struggling with lack of funding and staff, the government should be creating stability and certainty – not a bonfire of workers’ rights and decades of legal wrangling.”