Brexit risks “turning the clock black decades” on women’s rights, according to a new report published by the TUC.
The report says the European Union has been instrumental in empowering working women and enabling them to challenge unequal pay and inequality at work.
Women workers’ rights and the risks of Brexit highlights the huge gains women have made in the workplace since Britain joined the EU.
- Equal pay for work of equal value – Amendments to the Equal Pay Act required by EU law have allowed hundreds of thousands of low-paid women to win pay claims against employers who undervalued their work.
- Paid holidays for part-time women workers – The introduction of the Working Time Directive in 1998 resulted in more than 1.5 million part-time women workers gaining the right to paid holidays for the first time.
- Pregnancy discrimination – EU law required the UK government to make protection from dismissal because of pregnancy a day one right. Without this right women would have to wait 2 years before pursuing a claim of unfair dismissal.
Today’s report comes just weeks after leading employment lawyer Michael Ford QC warned that Brexit would mean “all the social rights in employment currently required by EU law would be potentially vulnerable”.
Mr Ford said: “It is difficult to overstate the significance of EU law in protecting against sex discrimination.”
The TUC says that leaving the EU would allow a government with a deregulatory agenda to make much more sweeping changes to employment law, such as reducing paid holidays, parental leave entitlements, and discrimination protections for pregnant workers.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Women have made huge gains in the workplace as a result of EU membership, ranging from protection against pregnancy discrimination to fairer pay, holiday and pensions.
“Brexit risks turning the clock black decades on these hard-won rights.
“I think we should all be very worried when he hear leading Brexiters like Priti Patel describing EU social and employment protections as burdens. These laws have helped to improve the lives of millions of working women.
“If we pull out of Europe all the leading employment law experts agree that it will be worse for workers’ rights. And it is women who stand to lose most.”
– A copy of the report Women workers’ rights and the risks of Brexit can be found at: www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Women_workers_and_the_EU.pdf
– Key rights covered in the report include:
1. Equal pay for work of equal value. The original Equal Pay Act only gave women equal pay with men in the same job or grade. However, amendments won by unions in the EU allowed women in the UK to challenge employers if they weren’t getting equal pay for work of equal value.
– In the past decade alone more than 300,000 women have taken equal pay claims, many based on the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. These include low-paid women workers, such as dinner ladies, carers and cleaners.
– Even the Dagenham Ford sewing machinists – whose strikes laid the ground for the Equal Pay Act – gained a pay rise from the new equal pay for work of equal value rules. They used them more than a decade after their original strike to get their jobs put on to a higher grade.
2. Rights for pregnant workers and mothers in the workplace. Around 430,000 women workers a year have a new baby and rely on EU rights like paid time off for ante-natal appointments and protection from pregnancy and maternity discrimination
– EU law required the UK government to make protection from dismissal because of pregnancy a day one right. Without this right 1 in 5 pregnant workers (80,000) would not be able to claim, as the UK government’s qualifying period for other forms of unfair dismissal is 2 years. EU law also strengthened protection from discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity leave.
– Right to parental leave were also won at EU level. Hundreds of thousands of parents, particularly single mothers, rely on this right each year to help them balance work with childcare.
3. Equal treatment for part-time women workers. Part-time women workers have been one of the chief beneficiaries of EU law. Part-time women workers were the group most likely not to have paid holidays before the Working Time Directive was implemented in 1998. It resulted in more than 1.5 million part-time women workers getting paid holiday for the first time.
– EU sex discrimination law has also given over half a million part-time women workers access to unfair dismissal rights and statutory redundancy pay.
– EU law has also made it mandatory for part-time women to have equal access to pensions.
– The TUC commissioned an independent legal opinion from Michael Ford QC on the consequences of Brexit for UK employment law and workers’ rights. A full copy can be found at www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Brexit%20Legal%20Opinion.pdf