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#Brexit: Are our rights in jeopardy?

DASHED HOPES: Many black and minority ethnic voters expressed disappointment at the result of last week’s EU referendum

LAST WEEK'S Brexit decision could put workers rights at risk and have a negative impact on race equality experts are warning.

The UK voted to leave the European Union after a historic referendum.

The Leave campaign won by 52 per cent to 48 per cent with England and Wales voting strongly for Brexit, while London, Scotland and Northern Ireland backed staying in the EU.

Since that momentous decision fears have been expressed that jobs could be affected as companies slow down recruitment amidst the uncertainty or choose to hire elsewhere in the EU, rather than in Britain.

But experts have warned that for those in work all EU-guaranteed rights are likely to be reviewed and could be vulnerable to repeal or dilution.

They have pointed to the fact that leading Brexit campaigners such as Boris Johnson have in the past repeatedly called for rights that they see as restricting employers’ flexibility to be scrapped.

Last year Johnson said it was “very disappointing” that Britain has not made “changes to employment law”, complaining that we “need to weigh in on all that stuff, all that social chapter stuff”.

And employment minister Priti Patel, another key Tory Brexiter, has called EU employment laws a burden and said she would like to halve them.


Experts also point to the fact that recent UK governments have been keen to reduce ‘burdens on business’. When the Coalition government launched its Red Tape Challenge website in 2010, the Equality Act was the first piece of legislation to feature on it. EU law helped defend most of the rights contained in the Act but the government found some things to repeal that weren’t required by EU law like the statutory discrimination questionnaires which individuals could use to ask employers for information that might help in a discrimination case.


Dr Jonathan Lord, Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Employment Law at Salford University, said it is likely that employment law already implemented will not change, but future laws guaranteeing workplace rights could be in danger.

“Leaving the EU will not change current legislation, but will more likely affect the future protection of workers’ rights” he said. “It’s highly unlikely that legislation introduced by the EU will be removed as it not only has been entrenched into UK employment legislation, but has been woven into the best practice for employers dealing with employees. The main ramifications of this historic vote will be felt in the future. The protection of workers’ rights has been one of the key objectives of the EU, which has constantly scheduled future employment rights.

“In 2018 the EU General Data Protection Regulations is going to replace the current data protection directive. Will the UK implement this directive? It will take two years for the UK to extract itself from the EU, it’s an unprecedented move but it would be unusual for the UK to agree to future labour law from an institution of which it is no longer a member.”

The TUC have expressed concerns that Brexit could have a negative impact on black and minority ethnic workers.
A spokesperson said: “Many BAME workers have benefited from other EU guaranteed rights that could be vulnerable if the UK left the EU.

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“These include protections for outsourced workers or those on temporary contracts as they are often over-represented in these groups. For example, nearly one in six workers in the cleaning sector - where business transfers are common - are from a BME background and without TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings, Protection of Employment) protections, these workers would have minimal job security.”

Experts have also warned of a negative impact on race relations.

The UK adopted race relations legislation decades before it entered the EU but EU law has strengthened protection from race discrimination in the UK and guarantees rights for the future.

It has also helped to establish common standards and action across the EU to tackle racism and xenophobia.


In 2000 it adopted a Race Directive that required comprehensive protection from race discrimination in all EU countries.

The move helped to clarify and strengthen race discrimination law in the UK. For example, it led to what is called ‘a shift in the burden of proof’ which recognises how hard it can be to prove discrimination.

However following last week’s Brexit decision there is uncertainty about whether these provisions will be protected.

The TUC said: “One thing that would probably be targeted if the UK left the EU is compensation in discrimination cases. Conservative MPs and advisers have said on a number of occasions that they want to limit discrimination awards and the cap on unfair dismissal compensation, which is not protected in EU law. If this happened, those people who have suffered the worst forms of discrimination – the kind that has brought careers to an end and ruined lives – would get a relatively small sum that in no way reflected the harm caused.”

The key role of bodies such as the European Court of Justice could also be affected.

It has usually taken a robust approach to equality rights and this has been seen in recent race discrimination cases.

“Judgements of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would also have less influence in the UK, which would mean equality rights are likely to become more narrowly interpreted and affect fewer people and fewer types of discrimination” said the TUC spokesperson.

There is concern too about the future of human rights legislation which has played a key part in helping keep black families together when their right to remain in this country has been questioned.

Earlier this year, outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron outlined plans for a British Bill of Rights, which were intended to curb the influence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

In recent years it has been strongly attacked by the Conservative Party right and key Brexiters, who have been infuriated by the court’s rulings blocking the deportation of terrorists.

Earlier this year home secretary Theresa May, said that Britain must leave the European Convention on Human Rights to avoid the influence of European courts.

In a speech that won her the support of key Vote Leave members she said: “The ECHR can bind the hands of Parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals. If we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its Court.”

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