Jobs and rights at risk?
by Philip Cole, former European civil servant
Brexit will affect millions of citizens – UK citizens living, travelling or working in the EU and EU citizens living, travelling or working in the UK. To safeguard them we need a comprehensive agreement which will guarantee common high social and employment standards. Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, conducting and concluding the negotiations is a challenge; the UK needs to work swiftly and constructively with the EU to reach a partnership agreement before the end of the transition period.
It’s a question of upholding fundamental rights at work; occupational health and safety, fair working conditions and employment standards, and information, consultation and rights at company level and restructuring.
If the partnership agreement cannot be achieved by the end of the transition period, UK citizens working in any of the EU countries will suffer – and so will UK citizens working in the UK because there is a risk of dumbing down of standards.
Some awkward questions
- Why does the UK refuse to make labour law provisions in the future free trade agreement subject to the dispute resolution mechanism provided for in the Agreement? Why has it not made clear the type of dispute settlement mechanism it would accept?
- Some recent EU legislation (e.g. on work-life balance for parents and carers) still needs to be adopted by the UK. Why the delay?
- The UK Government has not yet fulfilled its commitment for a new Employment Bill. Why not? It needs to do so before the end of the transition period.
A level playing field – what it is and why it matters
If a football pitch slopes in one direction, one of the teams is at a distinct advantage. Is this fair? No, of course not. A ‘level playing field’ = no unfair advantage for either side.
So why is the UK government digging up the pitch?
- The UK claims it will maintain de facto the highest labour and social standards but some proof is needed. Gentlemen’s agreements are worthless.
- EU citizens in the UK are experiencing significant problems in obtaining settled status and those who have obtained pre-settled status suffer reduced rights compared to UK citizens in accessing certain benefits. Is this fair?
- The UK Government has issued statements demonstrating a lack of political will to fully comply with its commitments under the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration. But trust is essential in these negotiations.
- Before adopting the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, the UK Government deleted clauses which would have provided some limited domestic legal protection for EU-derived workers’ rights, and committed itself to re-introducing these provisions in a forthcoming Employment Bill. Oh yeah?
Mobility and social security
UK citizens residing in the EU and EU citizens residing in the UK are currently covered and protected by social security coordination rules regarding:
- sickness benefits,
- maternity and equivalent paternity benefits,
- invalidity benefits,
- old-age benefits,
- survivors benefits,
- benefits in respect of accidents at work and occupational diseases,
- death grants,
- unemployment benefits,
- pre-retirement benefits, and
- family benefits under the Withdrawal Agreement.
Why throw this away? A level playing field means ensuring that these arrangements are genuinely reciprocal with no discrimination.
No dumbing down
What we need is a dynamic agreement on coordinating social security so that the UK would have to adapt its legislation in line with changes of EU legislation. It’s a question of maintaining high standards.
Its five minutes to midnight and the clock is ticking away
It is essential to agree an extension of the transition period so that a mutually satisfactory arrangement can be reached. What can you do?
If you are worried that this might not happen, why not write to your MP or your trade union or the TUC on email@example.com Your rights at work are at stake.
Uncertainty is bad for business. You have already suffered from the effects of the Covid pandemic. If this stalemate continues, and we don’t get an extension to the transition period, you’re going to find it harder to recruit and retain skilled staff from abroad and to export to EU countries. If you are worried about the further damage you might suffer from crashing out of the EU without a deal, you could contact an MP or make your concerns known to the CBI on firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re all in this together, but we need the government to take heed of our concerns…