Workers’ rights and protections for women could be under threat after Boris Johnson added a range of changes to the withdrawal agreement bill following the December general election, the Labour leadership contender Lisa Nandy has claimed.
The MP for Wigan said a series of answers to parliamentary questions that she tabled showed key protections embedded in European court of justice case law could be ignored by the government.
They include provisions for pregnant women, equal pay for men and women, and holiday pay.
Nandy said: “It is absolutely disgraceful that Boris Johnson wants to cast new doubt on rights for women at work that we have taken for granted for decades.
“The withdrawal agreement bill means women in Belfast will be protected permanently against discrimination at work, but women in Bolsover won’t have the same guarantees from next year. That’s completely unacceptable.”
Nandy presented the government with a series of European court of justice judgments to check what their new status would be under the European withdrawal bill following the election.
They included a key judgment from 1994 on equal pay that means employers who pay men more than women have to explain why the difference is not due to discrimination.
Others included judgments from 2006 and 2011 that stopped the practice of rolling holiday pay into wages and employers refusing to pay allowances as part of paid leave.
Judgments on pregnant women from 1990 and 1994, which ruled against employers refusing to employ women when they found out they were pregnant, were also included.
The Brexit minister James Duddridge confirmed that “each of the cases named in the parliamentary questions will be categorised as retained EU law” under the bill.
Nandy claims this gives ministers a new power to tell lower courts dealing with routine cases that they can set aside EU case law when making judgments. This has led to fears that standards could be set at a lower level than current EU rules.
Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland secretary, also confirmed that the legal obligation not to roll back EU law on discrimination against women in work applied only in Northern Ireland, not the rest of the UK.
In a parliamentary question asking whether specific EU council directives on equal employment rights would apply to the whole of the UK, Smith replied that they applied to “Northern Ireland only”.
Downing Street has insisted that details on workers’ rights would be contained in a new employment bill to ensure that the country was the “best place in the world to work” and that they would not be watered down.
A spokesperson for the prime minister said in December: “Once Brexit is done, we will continue to lead the way and set a high standard, building on existing employment law with measures which protect those in low-paid work.
“This is on top of the largest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation that the government is bringing forward.”