Labour will attempt to force through a new amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill in a bid to protect workers’ rights after Brexit.
On Wednesday the party will throw its weight behind warnings from trade unions who say unless amendments are made to legislation, the government will be able to slash rights without parliamentary scrutiny – including access to paid holiday and equal pay.
The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act, which allows ministers to change laws they consider ‘a burden,’ ‘an administrative inconvenience,’ or ‘an obstacle to efficiency’, cannot currently cut across EU law.
But post-March 2019, Labour says the safeguard will fall away and leave workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections exposed.
Shadow Brexit minister Matt Pennycook said: “Labour has been clear from the outset that the withdrawal bill is fundamentally flawed and is a serious threat to workers’ rights.
“If left unamended, the bill would give the Tories the power to chip away at fundamental employment protections, like paid leave and equal pay, without any scrutiny. That is completely unacceptable.
“The government should listen to the serious concerns of trade unions and accept Labour’s amendment.”
The amendment would stop the act, and others like it, from being used to change EU-derived rights and protections, including equality and health and safety protections and safeguards against practices which could harm the environment.
The Trade Union Congress has previously warned “there is a real risk ministers will adopt a salami-slicing exercise after we leave the EU.”
Trade union lawyer Michael Ford said: “A process is likely to begin of identifying which EU-derived employment legislation should be repealed. There already exist legal models in the UK for using secondary legislation to identify and remove legislation.”
Tuesday saw the EU Withdrawal Bill subjected to its first meaningful debating session, as an eight-week period of intense scrutiny got underway.
An amendment which would have obliged Theresa May to seek approval on any Brexit deal from devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was defeated.
Labour’s first amendments, which sought to formalise Theresa May’s Florence speech offer to have a two-year transition period, and for the European Court of Justice to have jurisdiction during that period, were also voted on.
Dozens more potential changes will be debated in the coming weeks, including the government’s own modification which would see an official Brexit date – March 29, 2019 – set in stone.
According to reports, at least 15 Tory rebels are expected to vote against the move – including father of the house Ken Clarke, former ministers Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry, ex-Attorney General Dominic Grieve and select committee chairs Tom Tugendhat and Sarah Wollaston – casting doubt on the government’s ability to emerge from the process unscathed.