The government has revealed its intentions to reintroduce European Union (EU) equality laws that are set to expire at the end of the year. This acknowledgment comes as a response to the necessity of preventing a notable deficiency in safeguards for workers. Today, ministers will introduce a statutory instrument aimed at officially incorporating essential rights and principles originally derived from the EU into the framework of British law.
This development arises amid concerns regarding the potential elimination of certain employment safeguards, such as those related to equal pay and maternity leave, which could occur when The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill becomes effective in January.
UK Government’s Shift in Retained EU Law Reform
The contentious legislation, often referred to as the “Brexit Freedoms Bill,” is designed to repeal numerous laws originating from Brussels that still exist in British legal texts. Additionally, it will terminate the precedence of EU law over UK law, resulting in the nullification of established case law principles.
Trade unions and employment lawyers had previously cautioned that this could lead to a lack of clarity regarding crucial safeguards for British workers that are rooted in the EU but not mirrored in British legislation.
The government’s current announcement underscores its commitment to articulating essential protections within domestic legislation. While one legal expert has expressed approval for this move, they also pointed out that it raises valid questions about the advantages of post-Brexit sovereignty if the result is merely the replication of existing EU laws.
The preserved protections encompass the “single-source” test, ensuring that women have the right to equal pay with men for performing work of equal value. These measures also safeguard women against receiving less favorable treatment in the workplace due to breastfeeding.
Safeguarding Rights of Women
Safeguarding women from unfavorable treatment when they come back from maternity leave, particularly when this treatment is related to a pregnancy or a pregnancy-related illness that took place before their return.
Guaranteeing that women can still benefit from special treatment from their employer related to maternity, including enhanced occupational maternity schemes. Explicitly specifying that the definition of disability within the realm of employment will encompass a person’s working life.
Imposing responsibility on employers who establish or permit discriminatory recruitment practices, including publicizing discriminatory statements concerning employment opportunities within their organization.
This decision may potentially cause dissatisfaction among Eurosceptic Tories, who advocate for the UK to distance itself from the EU’s influence. Max Winthrop, the chair of the Law Society’s Employment Law Committee, expressed his appreciation for the assurance that crucial rights “would not be discarded as of December 31st.” Nonetheless, he also noted that this action raises valid inquiries regarding the core purpose of Brexit, particularly in terms of sovereignty. He revealed to Sky News:
“When we are effectively replicating legislation from the EU, and I can understand why the government has done that because it would not be particularly popular to say ‘let’s scrap maternity rights’, it does leave the big question as to what exactly is it that we’ve gained from leaving the EU’’.
UK Government’s Shift in Retained EU Law Reform
The initial aim of The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill was to eliminate all EU-era laws that had been retained following the Brexit transition period to reduce disruptions for businesses. However, this proposed overhaul of Brussels rules and regulations underwent a significant reduction in scope in May. As a result, less than 600 of these laws are now slated for disposal by the year’s end.
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch argued that this adjustment was essential to mitigate the “risks of legal uncertainty” stemming from the automatic removal of approximately 4,000 laws. However, there was substantial dissent within the Conservative Party, with prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg accusing the prime minister of acting in a manner reminiscent of the Borgia family.
Incidentally, notes left on the press release announcing today’s measures indicated some apprehension that preserving these protections could provoke disapproval from the party’s right-wing faction. The notes in question appeared to revolve around strategies for addressing inquiries regarding the government’s decision not to abolish these protections.
They also explored concerns about whether upholding discrimination laws might be perceived as a threat to free speech and whether it could compel businesses to conform to what’s often termed the “woke agenda.”