‘Women in the firing line over post-Brexit law bill’

A new report warns women who work part time, on fixed-term contracts or through an agency could be most at risk from plans to rush through changes to EU law by the end of the year.

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Government plans to push through post-Brexit plans on EU laws by the end of 2023 will put the rights and protections of more than 8.6 million UK workers at risk, according to a report by the Work Foundation, in particular part-time workers, agency workers and those on fixed-term contracts.

The Government is planning to amend, replace or scrap thousands of pieces of retained EU Law by 31st December amid worries about the lack of time for parliamentary scrutiny.

The Foundation, which is based at Lancaster University, says working time directives and entitlement to paid holiday are amongst the regulations that could be weakened as a result of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022, as well as laws which ensure people in insecure work – including agency workers, part-time workers and those on fixed-term contracts – are not treated unfairly when compared to their peers in full-time or permanent employment.

Its briefing shows that 8.2 million part-time workers in the UK fall into the most at-risk category – with women more vulnerable than men. In the UK, 72% of part-time workers are women, whereas only 40% of full-time UK workers are women.

The current Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 protects this large, part-time workforce from not being any worse off than full-time worker equivalents. Without this retained EU legislation, the Foundation says they could be treated differently to peers when it comes to:

  • Pay and leave – including for holiday, sickness absence, maternity, paternity, adoption and Shared Parental Leave
  • Pension opportunities and benefits
  • Training and career development
  • Promotions, career breaks and job transfers
  • Redundancy selection and pay.

Others at risk include the three quarters of a million workers on fixed-term contracts in the UK (56% of whom are women). The EU-derived Fixed-Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 helps employees to insist that their fixed-term contract is converted into a permanent one in certain circumstances – and the TUC says it has led to significant improvements in pay and conditions with better access to workplace pensions for many temporary staff in the UK.

Nearly three quarters of a million agency workers are also at risk, says the Foundation. Nearly a third work part time and 28,000 are on a fixed-term contract so they have protection from part-time and fixed-contract regulations derived from the EU, but also from the Agency Workers Regulations 2010. This provides agency workers with the right to the same “basic working and employment conditions” as direct employees.

Ben Harrison, Director of the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, said: “UK workers are already facing the worst cost of living squeeze in generations and the prospect of rising unemployment. The last thing millions need is a year of uncertainty in relation to their basic employment rights – but that is exactly what the Government’s current approach to integrating EU regulations into UK law provides.

“Women are likely to bear the brunt of this additional anxiety as they make up the majority of part-time, fixed-contract and agency work. Work Foundation analysis has already shown that women are nearly twice as likely to be in severely insecure work as men, and the situation worsens for mothers, disabled women and women from Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds.

“Determining the future of such crucial protections to an arbitrary political deadline, alongside thousands of other regulations, creates significant instability and risks there being unintended consequences for workers and employers across the UK.

“The irony is that these regulations do need to be improved, and this Government had previously committed to a new Employment Bill during this Parliament in order to deliver on pledges to strengthen worker rights post –Brexit.

“While it is entirely to be expected that the UK would begin to diverge from EU regulations and policies over time in the aftermath of Brexit, rushing such changes through only serves to increase the anxiety and uncertainty faced by millions of workers in 2023.”

The Foundation says other employment rights at risk include those on holiday pay, protection of pregnant workers, and rights to maternity and parental leave and rights relating to working time, including rights to daily and weekly rest, maximum weekly working time, paid annual leave and measures to protect night workers. The Foundation says other legislation could be affecting, such as the Equality Act, which doesn’t originate from the EU, but whose cases have been determined on the basis of EU decision-making. Harrison says: “Even though the Equality Act will remain, its interpretation and application will no longer have to consider EU practice. This means we could see different decisions made around cases to close the gender pay gap, for example. The intricacies of all these issues need careful consideration and extensive consultation.”

The Work Foundation is calling on the Government to deliver the promised Employment Bill and enhance workplace protections, including when it comes to sick pay, enforcement of rights, flexible working and other family friendly policies all need to be improved.

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