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12 May 2017

The Brexit negotiations will have a big impact on the most vulnerable workers

The outcome of the upcoming negotiations between the European authorities and the United Kingdom over its exit from the European Union (EU) may have a huge impact on workers’ rights, in the UK but also in the rest of Europe, according to a report commissioned by the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The ones occupying the lowest rungs on the labour market may be the main losers in terms of workplace rights.

At the TUC request, researchers from The Work Foundation, a British think tank providing research on the future of work, have reviewed the scientific literature focused on the relationship between labour standards and foreign direct investment (FDI). The aim of the investigation was to determine the influence of the labour market deregulatory measures - undertaken by many European Member States in recent years - on the FDI flows.

“A race to the absolute bottom across all components of the employment standards framework is unlikely in the EU in the existing socio-economic and political context”, conclude the authors.  Instead of a “race to the bottom” scenario for the whole workforce, they consider that a “polarised racing scenario” is more likely. In other words, they anticipate that certain economic sectors and categories of workers (e.g. in atypical, precarious employment relations) may be more vulnerable to potential limitations of employment standards.

The UK-EU negotiations should reshape the European future economic and social landscape. If a balanced post-Brexit agreement is not reached, the British government might be tempted to change the country into a deregulated tax haven. This scenario could lead to pressure on EU countries from multinationals to deregulate their labour law and subsequently to a deterioration in workers’ rights.

The report reinforces the already strong concerns within the British labour movement over the social impact of the Brexit. The socio-economic inequalities within the British society might become worse in the coming years. The TUC fears to see poor-quality jobs booming in a near future.

‘The sort of jobs that have bedeviled Britain’s lacklustre recovery since the global financial crisis of nearly a decade ago and blighted the prospects of lost generation of young people’, commented Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary.

Further reading:

Andriescu M. and Giles L., Could a bad Brexit deal reduce workers’ right across Europe? Estimating the risks of a race to the bottom, The Work Foundation, May 2017.

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