The TUC has warned in a report that, by introducing an “accelerated process” into EU retained law, the government risks ripping up workers’ rights and breaching the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

The rights which could be lost include holiday pay, equal pay for women, parental leave, and equal treatment for part-time workers, among others.

It was agreed through the TCA that neither the UK nor EU countries should lower standards on workers’ rights - the “Level Playing Field” commitment. The TCA also contains an enforcement mechanism whereby the UK and/or the EU can face penalties if they worsen workers’ rights and protections, in circumstances where they can be shown to affect competition in trade and investment between the two parties.

The warning from the TUC about the threat to workers’ rights comes in a report published last week, which sets out the protections that apply to existing rights under the TCA. Entitled “Protecting Workers’ Rights Using the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement”, the report identifies the government review as creating a potential breach if it is followed through and labour standards are reduced.

It also found, however, that the crucial threshold to prove that reducing workplace rights has affected trade and investment between the UK and EU might be easier to meet than first anticipated.

In particular, it found that certain provisions within the TCA can be used to protect trade union members’ rights. These include:

  • The commitments within it to at least maintain standards of rights in place when the UK-EU agreement was signed (known as “non-regression”)
  • The potential to bring a case for even a single breach of non-regression, if this can be proved to have an impact on trade or investment
  • Commitments to “fundamental rights at work” which are grounded in the International Labour Organisation core conventions
  • Commitments to occupational health and safety standards; fair working conditions and employment standards; information and consultation rights at company level; and restructuring of undertakings protections.

Richard Arthur, head of trade union law at Thompsons Solicitors, commented that: “It’s always been just a matter of time before this government comes after hard-won EU employment and equalities rights in the wake of Brexit. The TUC’s report is timely and welcome, and we must use every avenue possible to resist attacks on workers’ rights."

To read the report in full, click here.

To read a summary of the report, click here.