(2 years, 1 month ago)Read Full debate
I rise to speak to new clause 79, which is in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends and hon. Members from other parties.
First and foremost, I recognise that the UK has voted to leave the European Union. It is an outcome that I did not vote for, but it is the position in which we find ourselves. It is now incumbent on us to strengthen this legislation ahead of our exit from the Union. We can only achieve this fully by recognising what European integration has done for us over the past 40 years, and the ways in which we can help one another.
Before entering Parliament, I was an employment rights lawyer for many years. I represented trade unions and their members for 10 years. More recently, I ran my own business providing advice on maternity discrimination and flexible working to mums and families. So I know at first-hand how many of our employment rights come from Europe. As my explanatory statement points out, my new clause would ensure that Parliament was kept abreast of changes in EU provisions regarding family-friendly employment rights and gender equality, as well as committing the Government to considering their implementation.
It is clear that working parents and carers in the UK are struggling. The Modern Families Index 2017, which examined the lives of 2,750 working parents and carers, found that more than a third of working families say that they do not have enough time or money for their family to thrive. Half of parents agreed that their work-life balance was increasingly a source of stress. A third said that work had a negative effect on their relationship with their partner, and a quarter said that it led to rows with their children. One in 10 parents would consider resigning from work without having another job to go to. Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission shows that 54,000 new mothers in Britain may be forced out of their jobs each year as a result of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The Fawcett Society, Working Families—the work-life balance charity—and trade unions, among others, continually fight to protect against these types of discrimination.
We have a collective responsibility to ensure that we help to protect the rights of workers and employees amid the cut and thrust of the Brexit negotiations. People voted to leave the EU for many varied reasons, but they did not vote to be worse off. Our laws on these matters must be no less favourable than they would have been had the UK remained a member of the EU beyond exit day. Indeed, the EU may well go on to legislate in ways with which we do not agree. The wording of new clause 79 is clear; it is there to inform, not to commit.
As many of my hon. Friends pointed out during the previous Committee sitting, we must make every effort to keep this House fully aware of the advancements that occur in Europe. To be clear, the new clause is not about binding the UK into implementing future EU directives in the family-friendly employment and gender equality space. Rather, it would ensure that Parliament was informed of any developments and would commit the Government to considering their implementation.
In the Prime Minister’s Florence speech, she signalled that the UK and the EU will continue to support each other as we navigate through Brexit. I have much to say on the work that we have collectively achieved in Europe, strengthening workers’ rights, maternity rights and employment practices. For example: the 1976 equal treatment directive established the principle of equal treatment for men and women in access to jobs, training and working conditions; the 1992 pregnant workers directive provided for statutory maternity leave, protected the health and safety of pregnant workers and breastfeeding mothers, prohibited dismissal due to pregnancy or maternity, and introduced paid time off for antenatal care; the 1993 working time directive provided a maximum 48-hour working week, and the right to rest periods and paid holiday; the 1996 parental leave directive provided for the right to unpaid parental leave, as well as time off for dependants; and the 1997 part-time work directive prevented part-time workers from being treated less favourably than full-time employees. All these measures have helped to improve the work-life balance and family-friendly employment rights in the UK, and it is vital that we do not fall behind Europe in the years ahead. To dismiss the last four decades of progress without looking to the future would set a dangerous precedent, which fills me with deep concern.
Break in Debate
The point is that these broad and general rights are ripe with value judgments. Quite often, they are not appropriately dealt with by six or seven elderly white judges in a Supreme Court; they are better resolved on the Floor of this House and by a democratic vote in this Parliament.