Labour's John McDonnell is among those backing a crowdfunder after precarious workers look set to be landed with significant legal debts.
In October, three precarious workers – Maritza, Wilson and Alex – teamed up with the IWGB union to force the government to abide by the law and seek a Brexit extension – after Boris Johnson suggested he would breach the Benn Act and lurch Britain into a ‘no deal’ scenario.
Instead, Johnson broke his own pledge to ‘die in a ditch’ rather than seek an extension, making the case moot.
The migrant workers say they faced a terrible prospect: ‘stand up to Boris Johnson and his threats of a no-deal Brexit, or face the risk of having some of their most basic rights stripped away’, the IWGB union said.
The workers are now crowdfunding to cover their legal fees – and have nearly reached their target.
A few days after the High Court claim was submitted, Boris Johnson went back on his commitment and agreed with the European Union to move the deadline to 31 January. The workers withdrew their claim, but now, the IWGB say government lawyers are arguing that because the claim was withdrawn, the claimants are liable to cover the government’s legal costs of at least £8,000.
The case stemmed from the fact that a no-deal Brexit would have put many workers’ rights at risk – potentially including the many employment rights that are based in EU law.
The IWGB has brought a number of high-profile cases which rely on EU law, including a £1m holiday pay claim against NHS contractor The Doctors Laboratory (TDL).
The grassroots union argue the three precarious workers are now being ‘punished’ by the government for having the temerity to take a stand.
Claimant Maritza Castillo Calle said:
“Precarious migrant workers like myself have been terrified by the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and the impact it could have on our most basic rights. We decided to take action to protect our communities, but now because Boris Johonson lied about his intention to not seek an extension, we are being asked to pay thousands of pounds. By handing us this bill, it’s clear that this government for the rich is trying to intimidate ourselves and other working class people from ever daring to hold it to account.”
An IWGB spokesperson added: “This attempt to intimidate those that try and challenge the government is in line with the Conservative party’s proposed manifesto pledge to explore changes to the judicial review process, which many fear will further limit ordinary citizens’ ability to challenge government policies.”
Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell backed the crowdfunder to cover the claimants’ legal costs:
“This crowdfunder goes to the heart of why Boris is unfit to be Prime Minister. The PM lied, low paid workers and their union bravely took action to hold him to account, the PM backtracked, and is now vindictively pursuing them for legal costs. Low paid workers standing up for their rights and the rule of law need to be supported, not attacked.”
The IWGB recently raised over £2,000 to help house Mike Hutchinson, who was allegedly ‘sacked’ at a Royal Mail subsidiary shortly after he spoke out about ‘gig’ economy conditions at ‘gig economy’ firm Ecourier.
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.
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