If my working life has taught me anything about employment it is that you should always get things written down in black and white if you want to guarantee your rights.
I’ve been listening to the whole debate over the next Brexit deal, even if it hasn’t really started yet because the ink is barely dry on the deal and we haven’t had any time to look at it up close. Signing up to something without looking at the smallprint is something that we are generally advised not to do. Why on Earth would that not apply to something which might profoundly impact our, and our children’s, futures?
I understand that the Government is making noises about employment rights. Of course, it is. It wants to get its deal over the line and it needs support from across the parties. But employment rights are not mentioned in the actual deal, only in the political declaration, which is not legally binding. This is crucial. Surely it is irresponsible to pass something without proper scrutiny which is not legally binding on employment rights just because we are a bit fed up and want Brexit over and done with? To me, this seems to be the most dangerous aspect of Brexit.
In the absence of legally binding statements, the whole thing boils down to trust. Do you trust this Government? Do you trust any person you are doing a deal with in the absence of written guarantees? Having been through a situation with a former employer around childcare, I now don’t trust anything that is not written down when it comes to employment rights. I was fortunate to have an email that proved my case. I took contemporaneous notes and I would advise anyone facing bullying, harassment or discrimination at work to do exactly that. Get it in writing. Leave a paper trail. It is absolutely crucial if you want to safeguard your rights. On no account should you leave it to trust and people doing the right thing, no matter how friendly you might have been with those involved in the past.
And so to employment rights. I may be menopausal, but I do definitely remember all the discussions under David Cameron’s government about deregulation of employment rights, including family friendly rights. I recall a leaked document from his adviser Steve Hilton suggesting the possibility of ditching maternity rights and going for a more US-style approach. In the US there is no statutory right to paid maternity leave. ‘The argument’ was that it would reduce discrimination against women. At what cost to them, and to their children?
In the event, nothing happened, in part because we had a coalition government and the Lib Dems would never have agreed to it. But clearly there are those who think watering down family friendly rights might be something worth looking at. So, no, I don’t trust them and I would want cast iron guarantees to the contrary, not just empty rhetoric designed to push a deal through. These things matter, they matter very, very much, and I, for one, do not want to have to look my kids in the eye and apologise for not doing anything to defend the rights I have benefited from just because I am a little bit bored of Brexit. Yes, uncertainty is bad for business, but uncertainty is temporary. Lost employment rights, like lost jobs, are hard to regain.