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United Kingdom

18 November 2017

UK: What happens to EU-based workers’ rights?

One of the key concerns for the trade union movement is what will happen after the Brexit with workers’ rights that are currently enshrined in EU law. The Tory government’s position is not very promising in this respect. Trade union confederation TUC stated that continued membership of the European Union single market is the best way to protect British workers after Brexit.

The debate over the protection of EU-derived employment law and workers’ rights in the UK is one of the main concerns for the trade unions. The Labour opposition formulated an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that would prevent the unilateral weakening of EU-derived provisions by future governments. Labour’s aim was to avoid that any changes could take place without democratic debate and a vote in the House of Commons. The amendment was narrowly rejected by 311 to 299. This demonstrated (again) that the Tory government, although they verbally promised since the referendum that workers' rights will be protected during and after Brexit, refuses to bring workers' rights into primary legislation.

The trade union confederation TUC reacted immediately and stated that Theresa May broke her promise to working people when she instructed her MPs to vote against protections for workers’ rights after the UK leaves the EU. Earlier on, during the 149th annual congress, the trade union confederation had declared that the EU single market is the best option for British workers. General Secretary Frances O’Grady said in her keynote address that the best Brexit deal for working people would be a deal that leads to staying in the single market and customs union.

With regard to the rights of EU nationals already living in the UK, the TUC and the employers’ organisation CBI issued a joint statement in September 2017, saying:

‘EU citizens account for 10% of registered doctors and 4% of registered nurses across the UK. Millions more work in the public and private sectors delivering public services and making a vital contribution to our economy. They need to hear that they will be allowed to remain in the UK, whatever the eventual outcome of negotiations. Not only is this important for our economy, it is the right thing to do.

Once agreed, this guarantee must be implemented independently of the rest of the negotiations to avoid the risk that “no deal” in March 2019 leads to uncertainty and heartache for millions of people.’

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