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Brexit: Potential impacts on labour rights

For more see: Brexit's potential impacts on business & human rights

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6 May 2019

Foreign workers in UK hospitality sector suffer low wages, harassment & health issues, Financial Times reports; incl. co comments

Author: Robert Wright and Camilla Hodgson, Financial Times

"Foreign cleaners expose lack of protection in UK labour market", 2 May 2019

The majority of the complaints come from Latin American women... Many of those concerned give strikingly similar accounts of struggling to secure even the modest wages they are due, facing frequently difficult workloads and sometimes harassment, bullying and health problems [...] from exposure to powerful cleaning fluids...

These stories about the treatment of staff at the cleaning companies working in Britain’s hospitality industry raise difficult questions about both the outsourcing sector and the capacity of the government to tackle abuse at work...

The outsourcing companies in the cleaning sector insist that staff complaints stem from isolated oversights or misunderstandings. Some have introduced systems such as third-party operated phone lines where staff can make complaints about their treatment...

Ms Ferro [who supplies cleaning and other domestic staff to hotels through various companies she owns] rejects allegations about the treatment of people working for her... 

Conversations with cleaners working in the sector suggest that the safeguards that some companies have introduced are far from universal and may be ineffective when staff are alone late at night or early in the morning with only their immediate managers...

Anup Sarin, director of operations for Aristel Hotels, says he is unaware of any complaints regarding treatment of staff on the company’s premises...

Mr Cherian, general manager of the three Seraphine Hotels [...] insists he never heard of any problems for staff working at the hotels through Ms Ferro’s company...

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25 March 2019

UK: Govt. schemes designed to bring in migrant workers post-Brexit could increase exploitation, say charities

Author: Emma Wallis, Info Migrants

"Could post-Brexit Britain increase the risk of modern slavery in the UK?", 20 March 2019

The British government has proposed two new temporary migration programs (TMP) schemes to combat the deficit that the disappearance of an easy supply of EU members could eventually leave. The first is aimed at “migrants from non-European Union nations to work on Britain’s farms for six months” [...] and another is for workers from ‘low-risk’ [...] countries to stay for a year...

The charity FLEX reviewed the schemes in a report published in March 2019 and found that these temporary migration programs could be vulnerable to abuse and could lead to the exploitation of workers, including “forced labor and debt bondage.” 

Caroline Robinson, director of FLEX told Thompson Reuters “There is a clear contradiction between Britain’s efforts to tackle modern slavery and its rush to bring in workers post-Brexit...” 

Temporary workers will not have any access to the social welfare enjoyed by other UK resident workers... If they did [...] leave, they risk being drawn into the illegal economy or ending up homeless, which then increases their risk of being trafficked... Their short stays and the impossibility of immediate return limits them from acquiring local knowledge of labor law for instance and “localized support such as trade union membership” ...

FLEX points out that workers will be expected to pay visa fees and flights to get to the UK to work for their temporary contracts...

FLEX advocates making sure that all workers rights are protected...

They also asked that the UK government “should establish bilateral labor agreements with all sending countries in which the protection of workers’ rights is embedded;” and that workers must be free to change employers and be offered “reasonable terms.” Wages and conditions should be established by a standard-setting board including worker representation...

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4 February 2019

UK: Labour & trade unions call on Govt. to include protection for workers' rights in Brexit agreement

Author: Dan Sabbagh, The Guardian

'Labour: May proposals for workers' rights likely to be rejected', 1 Feb 2019

Labour and leading trade unions have said they are unlikely to endorse any proposals from Theresa May aimed at improving workers’ rights after Brexit, [...].

Trade unions involved in discussing a possible workers’ rights package, which the government hopes will help some Labour MPs support its Brexit deal, said they had yet to see anything from ministers they could support.

Union sources said they would want to see the government commit to putting future protection for workers’ rights in the Brexit agreement struck with the European Union, rather than in UK legislation that could be repealed by a future government. [....]

Greg Clark, the business secretary, and Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, are working on legislation that unions believe would commit the government to not lowering standards on employment, environmental protection and health and safety after Brexit.

As well as demanding that such protections are inserted into the exit treaty, unions want a binding commitment that the UK will match any improvements passed by the EU. [...]

The ministers have also been talking to Labour backbenchers in leave-supporting areas, including John Mann, in the hope of getting at least a dozen to back May’s deal and make up for the lost votes of Tory Brexiters who will not support any deal May strikes with the EU.

The talks have included the idea of creating a “transformation fund” which could be invested in mining communities and other post-industrial, leave-supporting areas to support job creation, according to Mann. [...]

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3 December 2018

UK urged to protect post-Brexit seasonal farm workers from slavery

Author: Lin Taylor, Thomson Reuters Foundation

"UK urged to protect post-Brexit seasonal farm workers from slavery", 28 November 2018

Seasonal migrant workers employed under a British government scheme to minimise labour shortages after Brexit must be protected from debt bondage and slavery, campaigners and lawmakers said on Wednesday.

Critics say the pilot scheme to allow 2,500 migrants from non-European Union nations to work on farms for up to six months is “fundamentally flawed” because the upfront visa and travel costs could leave workers vulnerable to debt bondage.

Tying workers to employers in the agricultural sector may also encourage exploitation as they may be reluctant to report abuse fearing deportation...

Challenged on the issue in parliament... Britain’s interior minister Sajid Javid pledged to keep it in mind.

... the government is scrambling to ensure firms have enough workers to fill the gap once Britain leaves the EU in March and free movement ends...

Agriculture is high-risk as it relies on low-skilled seasonal workers who sometimes face exploitative wages, unsanitary working and living conditions and even physical attacks from supervisors...

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20 August 2018

UK: Co's likely to squeeze suppliers to cope with rising costs after Brexit, survey finds; raises concerns about vulnerable workers

Author: Michael Savage, The Observer (via The Guardian)

"Workers pay the price as big British companies squeeze their suppliers", 18 August 2018

A fifth of British companies have found they use suppliers who are either paying their staff late or at illegally low rates, a survey has found, raising further concerns about the treatment of vulnerable workers...

Industry figures said they expected such abuses to get worse as a result of Britain leaving the European Union when companies are likely to squeeze their suppliers even more to cope with rising costs. Further rises in the minimum wage could also encourage bosses to break the law.

There are already concerns about insecure employment practices, with more work contracted out to workers who are not officially recognised as employees...

[The] group director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, said: “The vast majority of British businesses would agree that short-changing their employees is inexcusable, but when it comes to the workers further down their supply chain they don’t have the same level of concern.

“Too often it is the people at the bottom of the supply chain who feel the pinch...”

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17 July 2018

UK: Brexit white paper commits to keeping EU rules on workers’ rights & environment

Author: Luke James, Yahoo Finance UK

"UK to keep EU rules on workers’ rights and the environment after Brexit", 12 July 2018

Theresa May has accepted EU demands for a clause in the Brexit deal that will prevent them lowering employment or environmental standards. The White Paper published by the government today includes the ‘non-regression clause’ that Yahoo revealed in March the EU was seeking to insert into the deal... It means ministers would not be able to axe EU legislation like the Working Time Directive... Despite the concession, trade unions and environmental campaigners are still concerned about the prospect of the UK being left behind in terms of rights and standards. Although the clause means no existing legislation can be axed in the UK, it does not mean the government will have to implement EU legislation introduced after Brexit. TUC general secretary [...] said:  “Today’s offer on workers’ rights isn’t good enough. It provides no absolute guarantee for existing rights... “[T]his proposal would allow the rights of hardworking Brits to fall behind those of workers in other European countries. What we need is a common rule book on workers’ rights, now and into the future.”

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4 July 2018

Romania: Price pressure following Brexit threatens to worsen working conditions in garment industry, report finds

Author: Laura Stefanut, BalkanInsight

"Brexit Blues for Romania’s Embattled Garment Industry", 2 July 2018

[M]any of Romania’s roughly 4,500 textile factories – employing more than 200,000 people in one of the EU’s poorest countries – [...] relied heavily on British clients who paid in pounds...

Since Brexit, British brands have resisted passing the cost of the pound’s fall in value onto shoppers; in an industry where margins are tight and every penny counts, that has left some Romanian factories scrambling to increase production to cover lost earnings and searching for clients elsewhere in Europe, according to interviews with more than a dozen factory owners and industry leaders...

The increased price pressure threatens to worsen already often dire working conditions...

BIRN contacted a number of British fashion brands known to have contracts with Romanian factories to ask about pricing policy post-Brexit...

Of those that replied, Topshop said it was unable to provide any information while Debenhams said it only sourced 3 percent of its products from Romania and anyway could not comment on commercial agreements. Burberry, Arcadia Group and French Connection did not reply. [also refers to IKEA]

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19 December 2017

Commentary: Workers could lose legal right to paid holiday under Brexit

Author: Frances O'Grady, The Guardian (UK)

Ministers including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are plotting to scrap the working time directive, according to numerous media reports. This is a crucial piece of EU law that protects working people – and which working people were promised would still apply after Brexit.

If Johnson and Gove succeed, 7 million workers could lose their guaranteed legal right to paid holidays. That includes nearly 5 million women and many workers on part-time and zero-hours contracts.

Stripped of the laws that restrain them, bad bosses could force their staff to work excessive hours, far above the current limit of 48 hours a week. Lunch and rest breaks would be under threat too, as would health and safety protections for night workers... 

[T]he Ceta deal between the EU and Canada [...] has [been] called... “the perfect starting point” for trade talks. But Ceta puts the rights of corporations and foreign investors ahead of those of working people...

Britain’s workers need a deal that not only safeguards the rights we already enjoy, but also in the long run, keeps UK workers’ rights apace with their equivalent in Europe...

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27 June 2016

Brexit means little for the rights of UK workers

Author: Sarah O'Connor, Financial Times (UK)

Britain’s…referendum over its EU membership has turned into a battle of the myth-busters…[T]he EU is not responsible for as many employment rights as you might think. The UK implemented the Equal Pay Act in 1970, before it even joined the EU. It already had sex and race discrimination laws too…It is true that the EU has strengthened, expanded and updated these rights over the decades…Yet…the biggest EU directives…contained big loopholes…for UK employers. Indeed, Britain’s labour market is the least regulated in the EU…That begs the question of which labour market regulations the government would do away with, should the UK leave the EU…The truth is that most employers are not angling for these EU-related rights to be repealed…A vote for Brexit…would have important implications for the labour market but that is because it would shake up immigration and trade. The impact on employment rights is a sideshow…

[Originally published 5 Apr 2016]

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27 June 2016

Commentary: Brexit will damage UK human rights provisions, but rights abuses exists in the EU too

Author: Heather McRobie, Novara Wire

"Brexit: What it Does and Doesn’t Mean for Human Rights,"

…[T]he Human Rights Act stitched the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into British law…The removal of the Human Rights Act, whilst likely to come in tandem with Brexit, is neither dependent on Brexit nor Brexit upon it. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is…an EU body…so Brexit would entail Britain formally cutting the link between the ECJ and the UK…The European Union’s treaty…Articles 45-48 recognise the rights of workers…and their rights to work freely across the EU without discrimination based on nationality…There is also important case law establishing workers’ rights that has emerged from the EU system, including the ECJ…The…argument…by some pro-EU liberals that the EU ‘stands for human rights’…is unconvincing…[T]he EU occupies a double role…of both reinforcing the norms of human rights…and simultaneously participating in human rights violations…Brexit…will damage human rights provisions…But staying in the EU now also can’t be a vote for the status quo – it should become a moment to combat the structural violence perpetuated by the EU itself…

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