The Retained EU Law Bill is a disaster in the making

Trade unionists should recognise what is at risk from the Bill and its sunset clauses.

Brexit anniversary

Tony Burke is president of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions and co-chair of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom.

A wide range of employment and health and safety rights derived from EU law were kept after Brexit — but now we must defend these workers’ rights from the promised Tory bonfire of EU legislation.

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill will scrap over 2,400 pieces of EU legislation currently transposed into UK laws as part of the government’s “Brexit dividend.”

The Bill will, if implemented, wipe out hard-won employment rights that are incorporated into many union agreements and workers’ contracts.

The TUC says the Bill “will cause enormous confusion and chaos for working people and their employers at a particularly difficult time for the economy, and poses a significant threat to workers’ rights. The Bill, if enacted, will sweep away thousands of pieces of legislation and upend decades-worth of case law.”

Ministers faced with the task have so far failed explain which EU laws they expect to retain, amend or which will expire as “sunset clauses.”

The Bill also will also risk a major trade war with the EU, as Britain will breach legal obligations under the Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement, adding further hardship to working families already facing massive cost-of-living problems.

Trade unionists should recognise what is at risk from the Bill and its sunset clauses.

The TUC has identified that a range of employment and health and safety rights derived from, or reinforced by, EU law which were largely maintained as retained when Britain left the European Union. Parliament can, however, amend or scrap the measures.

The TUC has identified the following key workers and union rights that could be lost:

– Holiday pay, including the right to average pay for holidays for all workers won by legal action brought by unions

– Equal employment rights for agency workers

– Data protection rights

– Protections of terms and conditions for outsourced workers or when an employer is sold to another company

– The right of workers and unions to consultation when jobs are being outsourced

– Protection of pregnant workers, and rights to maternity and parental leave

– Protection for part-time and fixed-term contact workers

– Rights relating to working time, including the right to paid annual holidays, breaks during shifts, breaks between shifts, maximum weekly working time, and measures to protect night workers and a ban on child labour

– Protection of workers’ rights on the insolvency of their employer

– Rights to a written statement of terms and conditions.

The Tories are spinning that scrapping the Working Time Regulations will allow workers to earn extra money via overtime if they chose to do so. But the fact is that the regulations protect workers from being exploited by bad bosses forcing workers to work long hours under threat of dismissal, or other penalties, if they refuse to work long hours.

The TUC also says the Bill will result in legal confusion. “Where EU-derived legislation is restated by Parliament, previous judgements relating to these instruments will no longer be binding. Issues will have to go through the judicial system again.

“The Bill hands huge powers to, and puts enormous pressure on, the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court which have been instructed to depart from case law informed by EU law if they consider it right to do so.

“There is also a mechanism to allow lower courts or tribunals to make ‘references’ to higher courts or tribunals to enable departure from retained EU case law.”

Unions and the Labour Party now need to prepare to campaign against what the media are saying will be a bonfire of EU laws, the effect of which will be to reduce and eliminate workers’ legal protections.

A conference from the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom, in association with the Institute of Employment Rights, opposing the anti-union laws and campaigning for free trade unions will take place December 3 at Mander Hall, NEU, Hamilton Place, London, WC1H 9BD. Register at

This blog first appeared as an article in the Morning Star.

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