The Government has cast yet more uncertainty over whether workers will lose key employment rights after Brexit – including rules that protect employees during the takeover of British firms by foreign companies.
Ministers this week refused to say whether the Acquired Rights Directive 2001/23/EC would be incorporated into British law after Britain leaves the bloc. The EU directive requires that companies bought out by other firms safeguard jobs of the workers in the taken over firm during takeovers.
The directive is particularly relevant because foreign firms can now get knock-down price bargains on British companies because of the newly weak value of the Pound.
In July, as Sterling fell following the EUY referendum, Japan’s SoftBank announced a surprise takeover of ARM, the formerly British-owned iPhone chip maker – with more major British firms expected to be snapped up by foreign buyers.
Tens of thousands of jobs could potentially be at risk if the directive falls off the statute books after Britain leaves the EU.
The lack of a commitment from the Government is particularly important because of suggestions by some Conservative MPs that a so-called “sunset clause” should be included in the Great Repeal Bill – meaning EU laws expire unless explicitly endorsed by the Government.
Relatedly, Labour MP Melanie Onn has tried to pass a private members’ bill that would incorporate workers right into EU law but the Government has so far resisted backing it.
Asked whether the directive would be incorporated into EU law Brexit minister David Jones said EU law would only be incorporated “wherever practical” and that it would set out specifics “in due course”.
“The Government will bring forward legislation in the next session that, when enacted, will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and ensure a functioning statute book on the day we leave the EU,” the minister said in a written response.
“This ‘Great Repeal Bill’ will end the authority of EU law and return power to the UK. The Bill will convert existing European Union law into domestic law, wherever practical. The Government will set out the content of the Bill and its implications in due course.”
Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary called on the Prime Minister to give a “cast-iron guarantee” to workers whose job are threatened by the discarding of the legislation.
“We've consistently raised concerns that Brexit could be used by the Conservatives as a means to further erode workers' rights and this ambiguous, non-committal response from the Minister offers little comfort to GMB members, workers or the British people,” he said.
“The Prime Minister needs to give a cast-iron guarantee that workers' rights will be protected during the negotiations.”
Matthew Pennycook, Labour’s Brexit Minister, said the Government should set out Brexit’s effect on workers’ rights “precisely”.
“The Minister’s response will do nothing to allay the concerns of British workers who suspect that the Government’s stated commitment to preserving their rights at work is merely cosmetic.
“The Government owes it to the working people of Britain to set out precisely how all of their existing legal rights at work will be guaranteed in law once we have left the EU.”
A Government spokesperson said: “This Government’s commitment to building a country that works for everyone means we will maintain and enhance workers’ rights as we leave the EU.
“The process is straightforward: at the point of exit we will transfer the body of EU law into domestic legislation including all the protection provided for workers. The prime minister and secretary of state for leaving the EU have been absolutely clear about that.
“The fact that Labour is spending its time trying to pretend something different shows it is just trying to find excuses to undermine and thwart the referendum result. Only the Conservatives can be trusted to respect the result and work to make a success of it for workers and businesses.”
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