Amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will be voted on in the House of Lords from today. This is a key opportunity for Members of the House of Lords to amend the Bill to ensure it does not lead to the weakening of workers’ rights and protections post-Brexit.
The Bill has been criticised on several fronts, including for creating broad powers for Ministers to change laws without proper parliamentary scrutiny, and for failing to safeguard existing rights and standards, including employment protections.
FLEX has previously reported on how the EU (Withdrawal) Bill risks increasing people’s vulnerability to labour exploitation. A significant proportion of workers’ rights in the UK come from the EU, including limits on maximum weekly working hours; access to paid annual holidays; and equal treatment rights for part-time, fixed-term, and agency workers, among others. The Bill fails to sufficiently safeguard these rights, standards and protections. An environment that allows poor working conditions increases the likelihood of labour exploitation. Research by FLEX and the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group has identified a strong link between labour abuses, such as failure to pay minimum wage, and labour exploitation.
The UK already has some of the weakest labour enforcement in Europe, which means abusive employers are often able to get away with treating workers badly. The loss or watering down of important employment standards would leave workers worse off, and risk increasing the likelihood of modern slavery.
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill is in need of some significant amendments to ensure it does not weaken rights and protections. Over 100 amendments are currently tabled for Report stage, which starts today and continues until 8th May (see full list here).
Particularly important is Baroness Hayter’s amendment after Clause 3 (no. 11, supported by Lord Warner, Baroness Smith and Lord Kirkhope), which would restrict the ability of Ministers to make major policy changes in the areas of employment, equality, health and safety, consumer protections and environmental law without proper parliamentary scrutiny. The amendment also includes steps to increase parliamentary oversight.
FLEX also urges Peers to support Lord Lisvane’s amendment (supported by Lords Tyler, Goldsmith and Cormack), which would require Ministers to show that any changes proposed to retained EU law are 'necessary’, as opposed to ‘appropriate’ (the current phrasing in the Bill). Amnesty International UK and Liberty have demonstrated how, without this change, Ministers could for instance argue that increasing maximum weekly working hours, or axing the right to holiday pay, is ‘appropriate’ under the Government’s post-Brexit industrial strategy. Such changes could not, however, be defended as ‘necessary’
Amnesty and Liberty’s briefing comprehensively covers a number of other important amendments. FLEX also recommends this succinct briefing by the Repeal Bill Alliance, and this legal analysis by the Public Law Project.