Establish two-thirds threshold to roll back EU rights
Theresa May should bring forth immediate proposals to show that she will honour her pledge to protect workers’ rights once the UK leaves the European Union. In doing so, workers concerned that their protections will be attacked by a Conservative government will be able to have some faith that the Brexit process will not see their employment rights harmed.
That was the call was made today (Thursday 30 March ) by the leader of the country’s biggest union, Unite, who has urged prime minister Theresa May to reassure that the enormous powers – so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers - she will have at her disposal during the Great Repeal bill process will not be abused to worsen the lives of working people.
The prime minister has said that all existing employment rights deriving from the EU, including such measures as the working time directive, will be transferred over to UK law with the government retaining the right to modify at some later stage.
However, Len McCluskey, the union’s general secretary, says that this `modification’ threat is causing serious concern among Unite’s members, particularly as comments from leading Tory figures, such as Liam Fox, reveal a wish to see rights reduced.
To counter workers’ fears that elements of the Conservative party is seeking to create a lower wage, poorer protections UK out of Europe, Len McCluskey is calling for a 66 per cent threshold for the removal of any EU legislation to be established.
This is modelled on the threshold needed to call a general election out-with the fixed five year term parliament.
Len McCluskey said: “However people voted in the referendum, they did not vote to be worse off. That includes being easier to mistreat at work. UK workers are already the cheapest and easiest to sack in Europe, a shameful state of affairs for an advanced economy. To this the government must not add that UK workers are the easiest to exploit.
“Let’s build on a precedent that the House of Commons has already accepted – the two-thirds majority needed to secure an election under fixed-term parliament legislation – to put in place similar hurdles that must be cleared before any EU-derived law can be wiped from the UK statute books once transferred over.
“Sadly, there are too many on the Conservative benches who see Brexit as their moment to destroy employment rights for unions to simply accept the prime minister’s word that the status quo will endure.
“They will waste no time in destroying vital laws like the working time directive, a measure that is not red tape but essential protection for workers and the public alike. Our roads are safer, for example, because under EU law lorry drivers must rest.
“But this hurdle would also provide an essential corrector to the enormous powers that the government can give itself using measures established 500 years ago by Henry VIII. This threshold would secure a voice for people in parliament during the most challenging time for our nations in generations.
“Unite is determined to campaign to ensure that the rights we have today remain in place and in tack when we leave the EU. They cannot be swept away by government whim – nobody voted for that,
“So I appeal to MPs from all sides of the House to support this proposal. It would send a clear signal to working people right across the UK that their rights are safe under a Conservative government. That way, we can all focus on the task in hand, getting the best deal for this country from the Brexit process.”
Len McCluskey also challenged the prime minister to use the Great Repeal bill to improve working life for millions of UK workers by banning the use of umbrella companies set up to limit the liability of employment agencies and to outlaw the use of exclusivity clauses in any work contract providing fewer than 35 hours a week employment to a worker.
He said: “One of the lessons to take for the referendum vote last year was that people did not feel that they were getting a fair deal, especially at work. The prime minister must signal that she gets that message by strengthening the now creaky floor under millions of temporary workers.
“Banning the use of umbrella companies set up to allow agencies to swerve their employment duties to workers and outlawing the ‘exclusivity clauses’ which make an agency worker at the behest of their agency but with no guarantee of a secure wage in return would restore some security and fairness to the increasingly uncertain world working people find themselves in.”
Unite is calling for an amendment to be tabled to the Great Repeal bill when it is brought before parliament. The amendment would stipulate a 66 per cent threshold must be met to make any changes to the laws derived from the EU.