My amendment to the Government's Article 50 Bill with the Fawcett Society regarding rights of women has been picked for debate on Wednesday 8 February 2017. Thanks to all the MPs who backed it.
Text of the amendment:
Before issuing any notification under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union the Prime Minister shall give an undertaking to have regard to the public interest during negotiations in:
Maintaining employment rights and protections derived from EU legislation,
Ensuring EU co-operation to end violence against women and girls, tackle female genital mutilation and end human trafficking will continue unaffected,
The desirability of continuing to recognise restraining orders placed on abusive partners in EU Member States in the UK and restraining orders placed on abusive partners in the UK across the EU.
establishing a cross-departmental working group to assess and make recommendations for developing legislation on equality and access to justice.
This is an amendment designed to secured additional assurances from Government on a number of important issues for women and for women’s rights.
Fawcett Society Briefing on Article 50 Bill Amendment
The Fawcett Society is the leading UK charity campaigning for Gender equality and women’s rights. In 2016 we launched the #FaceHerFuture campaign to defend women’s rights and set out a progressive agenda post-Brexit. The campaign is supported by over 20 women’s and equalities organisations.
We welcome the fact the Government has already committed to maintaining employment rights from the debates on worker’s rights in the EU on the 7th of November when the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark MP stated:
“This Government place a great deal of importance on the fundamental protections that workers in the UK have. Whether protection from discrimination or unfair dismissal, equal treatment—working full time or part time— or the right to a minimum wage or to paid holiday, the Government are committed to safeguarding those rights…
“No one listening to this debate should think that we have any intention of eroding the rights that we enjoy in this country through our process of leaving the European Union. In fact, the opposite is true. We will be using the legislation before this House to entrench all existing workers’ rights in British law, whatever future relationship the UK has with the EU…
“The intention is that all workers’ rights that derive from the EU will be brought into British law”
And David Davis MP, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union stated:
“The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government will not, as a consequence of our withdrawal, allow any erosion of rights in the workplace, whether those rights derive from EU or UK law. She has further made it clear that the Government are determined to deliver an economy that works for everyone, and fundamental to that is the preservation of existing workers’ rights.”
In her speech on 17th January 2017 the Prime Minister herself said:
“under my leadership, not only will the Government protect the rights of workers set out in European Legislation, we will build on them.”
However, concern remains that these commitment will become difficult to honour through the Brexit negotiation process and beyond. This is because there will be political pressure on the Government to use the opportunity to deregulate the economy, pressure which may be hard to resist. The Prime Minister has also indicated she would if necessary make Britain a low tax low regulation economy. We do not believe that this is compatible with safeguarding women’s rights.
While it is possible for any legislation to be repealed at a future date, we are concerned about the use of ‘Henry the VIII clauses’ in the Great Repeal Bill which will give powers to the Secretary of State to repeal legislation at a future date without further debate.
We are seeking early assurances that Henry VIII clauses will not be used for any equality and employment rights legislation. Can the minister give that assurance?
What are the particular rights that we are concerned about?
Part-time workers’ rights – will part-time workers’ rights remain unaffected by Brexit. In particular access to pay and leave entitlements, pensions.
Pregnant workers’ rights – 54,000 mothers at work each year are made redundant or feel they have to leave their jobs as a result of pregnancy discrimination. We welcome the Government’s recent response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry in to pregnancy discrimination where a commitment was given to introduce additional protections from redundancy, but we also need assurances that comprehensive protection for pregnant women at work will continue unaffected by Brexit.
Health and safety at work, time off for ante-natal appointments, maternity leave and pay are all important entitlements for pregnant women at work.
Will the minister guarantee that no protections for pregnant or part-time workers will be repealed, and in particular will not be repealed using using Henry VIII clauses when they bring the Great Repeal Bill to the House.
Equal pay for work of equal value– this is an important aspect of our equal pay legislation that derives from European law. It enables women, often on low incomes, to challenge pay inequality where they can identify a male comparator in a role which they can argue is of equal value to theirs. Two important live equal value cases at the moment:
Reading Council – women cooks and care workers challenging unequal pay.
ASDA – Leigh Day case representing women shop floor workers vs male warehouse staff
Will the Minister guarantee that equal value will remain an intrinsic part of our equal pay legislation going forward?
EU co-operation to end VAWG
Policing and justice
The EU leads cooperation between Member States in the area of freedom, security and justice (AFSJ) – what is termed ‘law and order’ in the UK. The Treaty of Lisbon incorporated 135 police and criminal justice cooperation measures – previously agreed between 1995-2009 – into the main body of EU law. The Lisbon Treaty has introduced shared criminal law provisions and aims to harmonise and improve the effectiveness of AFSJ measures in the EU.
In 2013 the UK Government chose to ‘opt-out’ of these measures – including the European Arrest Warrant, an arrest warrant valid in all member states – and subsequently ‘opted-back in’ to a number of measures, mainly to enable cross-border police cooperation and data sharing. The UK may remain able to cooperate in these measures after Brexit, and it will be vital to ensure that victims’ rights and needs are put first during any negotiations on the future of the UK’s involvement in the AFSJ with the EU.
Following the UK’s exist from the EU we would want to ensure the UK maintains strong police cooperation, data sharing in tackling crime – including VAWG.
The EU sets policy priorities for AFSJ through multi-annual programmes. Most recently, the Stockholm Programme 2010-2014 included requirements to develop criminal legislation and measures that support victims and has resulted in the following:
The EU Victims’ Directive (2012/29/EU) establishes minimum standards for the rights, support, and protections for victims of crime in the EU, which were expected to be implemented into national laws by November 2015. The Directive establishes clear rights for victims and obligations for Member States – including specifically for victims of violence. It includes new and strengthened measures for:
Victim support: including referrals to victim support organisations.
Specialist support services: such as minimum provision of shelters, and targeted and integrated support for victims with specific needs – including victims of domestic violence.
Individual assessments for victims: to identify vulnerability and special protection measures required by women and children.
Protection of victims: contact with offenders must be avoided (e.g. all new court buildings must have separate waiting areas).
Obviously the Great Repeal Bill will mean all existing victims’ legislation will be replaced – but we will want to ensure that this is fully safeguarded in domestic, primary legislation.
The EU Protection Order (2011/99/EU):
The EPO protects victims against perpetrators by enabling a person who is protected against a perpetrator in one EU country – such as with a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) in England and Wales – to retain that protection when they travel or move to another Member State.
The EPO means that restraining, protection and barring orders issued in one Member State are quickly and easily recognisable across the EU through simple certification, and guarantees the rights of the victims of violence outside their own country too, wherever they are in Europe. Previously, survivors would have to go through complex procedures to get their protection recognised in other EU Member States – and enter a different procedure for certification in each country. The EPO means that survivors are able to travel, or live, in other EU member states more safely.
The EPO ensures that women who have suffered domestic violence are protected from the perpetrators if they travel or move anywhere in the EU. Predictions about the consequences of Brexit for policing measures are speculative and will depend on the outcome of negotiations.
It is generally accepted that the UK will want to continue with certain parts of EU policing and justice cooperation – and we would argue that it is essential that the UK continues to opt-in to the EPO agreement following Brexit.
After we have left the European Union, will the Minister be able to confirm that the EU protection order states will be in effect in the UK to protect British citizens and European migrants from abusers, and vice versa, that British courts will be able to issue restraining orders that can protect British citizens and legal residents when they travel to the European Union?
Gaps in equality legislation and access to justice
Concerns remain that eg Section 14 (dual discrimination) and Section 106 (information about diversity in range of candidates) of the Equality Act 2010 have not been commenced.
In the absence of section 14 a disabled woman, an older woman or a Muslim women cannot bring a discrimination claim based on their actual identity, only one aspect of their identity. Our legislation does not provide appropriate protection.
Additionally, many people who experience discrimination are also prevented from having access to justice by time limits and employment tribunal fees of £1200. When ET fees were introduced discrimination claims initially fell by 80%. Recent data shows ET applications are 43% down since the introduction of fees. The number of successful sex discrimination claims is also down.
The Fawcett Society has launched a review of our Sex Discrimination legislation. Will the minister give an assurance that they will establish a cross-departmental working group to work with the Fawcett Society and others to ensure that gaps in our existing legislation are addressed and women’s rights are safeguarded going forward in order to seize the opportunity to make the UK the best place to be a woman.