Following the comprehensive rejection by Parliament of her Withdrawal Agreement, Theresa May says that her government will engage in cross-party talks in an effort to find a way forward with sufficient parliamentary support. One possible area which may be considered is the protection of workers’ rights. 

So far in the Brexit debate, scant regard has been paid by the government to workers’ rights. The government has not consulted with trade unions about the terms or implications of Brexit and only when facing certain defeat in Parliament did the Prime Minister belatedly pick up the phone to some trade union leaders. This is not genuine engagement with trade unions, nor a genuine desire by the government to protect workers’ rights.

Instead, very serious concerns have arisen on multiple fronts such as (i) the government’s ability to use its unparalleled powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to dismantle EU  workers’ rights in the UK, (ii) the entirely ineffective and unenforceable non-regression provisions in Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, and (iii) the positioning of social and employment standards as subordinate to ‘open and fair competition’ in the (non-binding and purely aspirational) Political Declaration.

If there is to be consideration of workers’ rights, it is essential to be clear about what is required to provide adequate protection. It is also important to distinguish between the measures that would require negotiation with the EU and those that can be agreed to unilaterally by the government. 

In this briefing, the Thompsons Trade Union Law Group sets out its suggestions in outline as to the minimum protections required.