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Don’t believe the myths about human rights and Brexit!

The Unite union has published a leaflet called “What has Europe ever done for us?” which claimed that the EU “gives us the laws and legislation that stop you being exploited by your boss and protect you on a daily basis” – in other words, almost all our rights come from the EU.


Is this true? Will leaving the EU mean that employers will be able to trample over their workers?

Not at all. The rights we have are very largely made in Britain.  Let’s consider some of the claims in the Unite leaflet:-


  1. The EU protects workers at work. “Every day, thanks to Europe, your workplace is safer” Perhaps it has improved the rights of workers in some countries, but even the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work admits that: “There is a long tradition of health and safety regulation in Great Britain, as far back as the 19th century. . . The current health and safety system in the UK was established by the Health and Safety At Work etc. Act 1974”

  2. Holidays. “Thanks to Europe, UK workers got the legal right to holidays for the first time in 1998” says Unite. Not so. UK workers were entitled by law to one week’s paid holiday as far back as 1939 and the Bank Holiday act which established statutory public holidays, dates from 1871. What is more, the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations body to which the UK belongs, brought in the right to three weeks’ annual leave in 1970.

  3. Hours of work. “Your boss can’t force you to work more than 48 hours a week and must give you regular breaks.” Actually, average hours worked fell from 56.7 in 1870 to 42.4 in 1990 without any help from the EU. And even the TUC estimates that today 3.4 million employed workers still work more than 48 hours a week.

  4. Sickness rights. “You don’t lose holiday rights accrued during periods of ill health.”  True, but this was agreed before the EU stepped in.

  5. Equal pay. “Men and women must be paid the same for doing the same job”. We passed Equal Pay Act in 1970, before joining the EU, so it’s nothing to do with Brussels. What is more, today men working full-time in Britain still earn 14.2 per cent more than women on average and if you include part-timers the gap is 19.1 per cent

  6. Maternity rights. “Statutory maternity leave of up to a year”. Britain introduced statutory maternity leave in 1975, before the EU started interfering with employment legislation. Even now, the EU does not have exclusive competence over employment matters.  A recent statement  on the EU Commission website says that “Responsibility for employment and social policy lies primarily with national governments.”


What is more, the Unite Leaflet also mentions the oft-repeated claim that the EU “is also responsible for 3.5 million jobs in the UK.” This implies that we would lose these jobs on Brexit. It is complete nonsense, although a number of politicians have said the same thing.   

Claims that three million jobs or more jobs were dependent on our being members of the EU first appeared following the publication of a report produced by Dr. Martin Weale in 2000 for the National Institute for Economic and Social Research.  However, the report did not say that these jobs would be lost if we left the EU. Far from it. It suggested that withdrawal may actually be beneficial.  It is the fault of politicians like Nick Clegg, John Prescott and Stephen Byers that the findings of this academic report have been twisted.

Dr. Weale was furious at this distortion, describing it as “pure Goebbels” (a reference to Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda) and saying, “in many years of academic research I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts”.  

So do not believe what the Unite leaflet says. Your rights will be protected.

  • Every right we have will be incorporated into UK law under the Great Repeal Bill so will not vanish when we leave the EU.

  • We did not get our rights from the EU; they are all now incorporated into UK law; we will still have them when we leave the EU. As we have seen, some of them originate with the International Labour Organisation, with the EU just acting as a conduit. We will still be a member of the ILO on independence, so will continue to abide by its standards.   

  • Trade unions should stop believing in benefits from Brussels. Trade unionists should all join the majority of the British people in upholding our independence.

Labour Leave shares a number of viewpoints from external commentators, both Leave and Remain, without necessarily endorsing any of the viewpoints therein.

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Labour Leave will campaign to achieve a fair deal from Brexit negotiations. We recognise the will of the UK public and will hold the government and the Labour Party to account.

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