If the Brexiteers are coming for our workers’ rights, they’d better do it out in the open

No one voted for weaker workplace protections

© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Today, Theresa May unveiled her plan for the UK outside of the EU. Those working in public services are rightly concerned by what Brexit might have in store for them. While it is certain that the UK will leave the EU there are still huge choices for the Prime Minister to make.

Leaving the single market and turning the UK into a low-tax, low-regulation island off the coast of continental Europe may be how many Tory Brexiteers see our future — but for anyone who relies on the protections at work, who relies on public services or who provides those services, that would be a disaster.

Today the Prime Minister prioritised keeping the right flank of her party happy over setting out clear and coherent principles for a stronger Britain outside the EU.

Any meaningful trade deal with the EU — especially one that involves a customs union — will involve conformity to EU rules and regulations. Thanks to geography, history and culture we will be tied to Europe and the EU regardless of what deal we sign. The real question is what is the government willing to protect.

It’s clearer than ever after today’s speech that there’s far more at stake in the weeks and months ahead than just our membership of the EU. So much of what our union cherishes is on the line.

That’s why these negotiations cannot happen only in the corridors or Whitehall and Brussels and must not be the preserve of a secretive government cabal. They must take place in public, with full transparency, open to consultation with unions and others and crucially, they must have the consent of parliament.

Let anyone who dares come for our rights at work make and lose their case in public view, rather than cutting working people adrift in shadowy meeting rooms.

Now is a time for clarity, honesty and openness — all of which are necessary if the government is to receive the consent of the British people for its negotiations.

So far, all three have been sorely lacking.

Our priorities

For our part, UNISON is clear about what we sort of Brexit we want. We want to see employment rights protected in full, enshrined in primary legislation so that they can only be changed by a vote of parliament. And we want to see a Brexit with provision for investment in quality jobs, the protection of living standards and funding for quality public services.

We want to see a fair deal for public services at the core of any new trade deal with the EU and other major economies, rather than selling the NHS down the river with a rehashed TTIP.

And we want to see the right to remain for EU nationals as a starting point in negotiations with the rest of Europe. The alternative — which Theresa May’s government has failed to rule out — is the lives of millions of people, including vital public servants, being used as pawns in those negotiations.

A negotiation that fulfils these criteria shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve. No-one voted to leave the EU to weaken their rights at work. Few want to tear apart the families of those who have made their lives here. And everyone would, I hope, want to see a thriving British economy with well-funded public services in the years ahead.

UNISON will be working towards a fair deal for public services and those who provide them. It remains to be seen whether Theresa May and her ministers will be doing the same.

Dave Prentis is the General Secretary of UNISON

See: Theresa May should guarantee the residency rights of EU citizens. It’s the smart thing to do.

See: Theresa May’s ‘clean Brexit’ would hurt working people, says TUC

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.