EU referendum: TUC's Frances O’Grady warns that workers’ rights are being forgotten in Brexit debate

Many UK workers’ rights would be put at risk if the UK voted to leave the EU

Hazel Sheffield
Friday 26 February 2016 15:07 GMT
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the biggest UK trade union body the TUC, has warned that workers’ rights are being forgotten in the debate over whether the UK should stay in the EU.

“It is citizens who get votes, not businesses. There is a danger that this debate is becoming so dominated by the business voice that we’re forgetting about what matters to ordinary voters,” O’Grady told the BBC.

She said that the big question that the Brexit campaign has to answer is what would happen to rights at work, from maternity leave, to equal pay, to holidays, to consultation on redundancies, if we left the EU.

“Do we think the Government that we have in power would protect those rights?” she asked.

Kathleen Morrison, professional support lawyer at Brodies LLP, said that the impact of EU law on the development of UK employment law cannot be understated.

She gave the following 11 examples of workers’ rights that originated at EU-level:

1. Working time

Hours of work were largely unregulated before the UK Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) were introduced to implement the European Working Time Directive. Key rights include the 48-hour working week (although the UK has its well-known opt-out arrangement), the right to daily and weekly rest breaks, and limits on night-work.

2. Holidays

The European Working Time Directive also obliged Member States to provide paid holiday of at least four weeks, although the UK has since gone further, extending provision to 5.6 weeks’ holiday per year.

3. Protection for workers when work is transferred from one business to another

Employees are protected when the work they do is transferred from one business to another; employees automatically transfer to the buyer; they transfer on their existing terms and conditions of employment (with limited exceptions); they are protected against dismissal in connection with a transfer; and information and consultation requirements apply.

4. Agency workers

Agency workers have the right to the same basic working conditions (for example, pay and annual leave) as equivalent permanent staff after they have worked for a business for 12 weeks.

5. Collective redundancy consultation

If an employer proposes to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees at one establishment within 90 days, it must provide information and consult with employee representatives. Consultation must begin "in good time" before redundancies take effect.

6. Discrimination

The EU outlaws discrimination based on sex, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, disability, age, sexual orientation and gender reassignment. It also requires equal pay for men and women.

7. Fixed-term employees

The EU prohibits less favourable treatment of fixed-term employees in comparison to permanent employees.

8. Part-time workers

Part-time workers are protected against less favourable treatment in comparison to full-time workers.

9. Pregnancy and maternity

Some pregnancy and maternity rights stem from EU law, although UK rights go much further than the EU minimum, for example providing 52 weeks’ maternity leave as opposed to the EU minimum of 14 weeks.

10. Parental leave

Eligible employees are entitled to up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child, which can be taken up to the child’s 18th birthday.

11. Data protection

The UK Data Protection Act was designed to implement the EU data protection regime.

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