Last night MPs held their first debate on the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU. Unsurprisingly given recent events, Article 50 was high on the agenda. But crucially, the debate also revolved around the rights at work that we enjoy as part of our EU membership.
Workplace rights was at the heart of UNISON’s campaign to keep Britain in the EU. We may have lost that argument, but our concerns remain. Before the referendum UNISON members told us that rights at work were their top priority – and in the aftermath, preserving those rights has been one of our top priorities.
The government have tried to claim that our rights will be protected through their “Great Repeal Bill”, which turns EU legislation into UK legislation.
Yet as many have argued – perhaps most notably Melanie Onn MP – the bill could enable government ministers to abolish protections without a vote in Parliament. Maternity pay, health and safety rules or agency workers rights could be obliterated by the stroke of a pen in a Whitehall department, with no recourse.
To make matters worse, the government even seem to be rowing back on the limited commitments they’ve already made on rights at work. In response to a question from shadow Brexit minister Matthew Pennycook, the government revealed that they plan to maintain rights at work “wherever practical”.
You don’t have to be an expect in government jargon to know that these are the sort of weasel words used to get bail on promises already made.
None of this is surprising, as our new PM is a long standing opponent of the social chapter and of trade unions.
She has spoken of the social chapter as a gift from the Labour Party to the union movement rather than a fundamental part of our rights as citizens.
And she was a vocal supporter of the brutal Trade Union Act, which dispute diluted over the past year, still has a profound impact on the rights of trade union members.