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Power is in our hands

Unions call for working people to head off the threat of a Tory evisceration of labour rights post-Brexit

TRADE UNIONISTS urged Britain’s workers to “generate industrial power in the workplace” after legal experts warned the next decade will be full of “ambiguity” for workers’ rights.

Irwin Mitchell solicitors have expressed concern that the Withdrawal Act 2020, which agreed that Britain would leave the European Union on January 31, has no guarantees about enshrining European labour legislation into British law.

Although Britain will follow all EU law during the transition period ending on December 31, Irwin Mitchell’s Sybille Steiner said that the Act “does not contain any reassurances about worker rights.”

Additionally she warned that the Act “contains a mechanism to allow the government to ‘roll back’ employment protections by giving lower courts and employment tribunals the right to deviate from established European Court judgments.”

This would mean that workers’ disputes would not have to go all the way to the Supreme Court. Smaller, local courts could thus overturn previously established precedents — particularly Supreme Court rulings that were based on the interpretation of EU law.

Ms Steiner added: "This could lead to significant changes because many UK laws interact with EU law including discrimination, working time and redundancy."

The view of Irwin Mitchell was echoed by established trade union solicitors Thompsons, which told the Morning Star: “While we may have left the EU last night and the Tories want to move on from using the word ‘Brexit’, it is far from done, and won’t be over until at least the end of 2020.

“For the next 11 months, and perhaps for as many years, British workers’ rights will be decided by a party notoriously and historically uninterested in their wellbeing.

“Johnson has said that workers’ rights will be protected or enhanced and yet the government has been very clear that it doesn’t want to be subject to EU rules and regulations, or align UK law with EU law in the future.

“When Boris Johnson talks of ‘diverging’ from these regulations, it’s hard-won workers’ rights that are in his sights and those of his City backers. 

“The latest 50p coin may say ‘Peace, Prosperity and Friendship…’, but all indications suggest quite the opposite for workers’ rights in a post-Brexit UK.”

Unions have made it clear they will campaign to ensure that workers’ rights are not watered down after Britain leaves the EU.

The news follows warnings from former British ambassador to the US Kim Darroch that Donald Trump will “insist” on the NHS paying more for vital drugs under any post-Brexit trade deal.

Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery said: “Workers should always beware of Tories bearing gifts.

“Johnson’s right-wing mob will turn their sights onto the workers and the unions. There lies ahead the mother of all battles between those with the wealth and those who produce it. We need to be ready, we need to be strong, we need to be united. After all we have a common enemy.”

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the “bombshell” allegation “confirms every Labour warning — that the US will indeed seek to force the NHS to pay through the nose for  pharmaceuticals, putting further strain on our cash-strapped NHS.”

Writing in the Morning Star today Unite executive officer Sharon Graham insisted that trade must also be incorporated into industrial strategy after Brexit.

She said: “We must generate industrial power in the workplace to deliver practical campaigns to drive up wages and conditions.

“It is clear that what happens next on trade will affect wages, working conditions and jobs.

“But wherever possible we must look to take practical, positive action. Many of our workplaces will be affected — for good or bad — by trade deals with countries like the US and China as well as the EU.

“As well as defining overarching principles, things that we broadly want to see, or perhaps more importantly want to avoid, we also need to look at the specific characteristics of each industry and look to develop very specific micro-demands at the industry level that help secure jobs and rights.”

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