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Brexit: Just What Are Jobs And Living Standards Being Put At Risk For?

24/02/2017 17:12
Ian Forsyth via Getty Images

This week we've learned from the government's leading Brexiteer, David Davis, that the UK will be putting British jobs and living standards at risk for nothing more than the illusion of 'taking back control' of our borders.

Visiting Latvia, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union suggested that not only high-skill, but low-skill, migration will continue at pretty much current levels for "years and years", despite leaving the EU.

Meanwhile, concerns are mounting up about the impact of going beyond leaving the EU, for which there is a popular mandate, to rule out staying in the single market and the customs union, which simply wasn't on the ballot paper.

Crashing out of the EU - the Government's plan B - could mean an extra £6billion of taxes on British exports to Europe and other countries, restrictions on the export of services, and huge queues at our ports. And there could be a bonfire of the workers' rights that single market membership guarantees with the conversion of Britain into a low wage low-regulation low-tax haven for the worst employers.

This would heap new pressures on workers who are not having it easy as things stand. Inflation has begun eating away at household budgets, which are already strained because of the longest pay squeeze in living memory, and the rise of shady employment practices like the gig economy and zero hours contracts. Personal debt is growing too, as many people's wages struggle to keep pace with the cost of living.

The white paper on exiting the European Union let the cat out of the bag when it said that Parliament had always been sovereign, despite EU membership but that 'it has not always felt like that'. Now David Davis has confirmed that even control of our borders is illusory - the issue Theresa May said was paramount, with the hit to our economy a price worth paying.

Meanwhile the issues that make people worried about migration - exploitation and undercutting, pressure on housing and public services, the lack of language training -still need action. We are still waiting for the government to make good on promises to tackle these challenges, all of which could be addressed well before we leave the EU. 

We want to see measures like tougher enforcement of the national minimum wage, closing the loopholes in the rules covering agency workers, and local labour clauses in public procurement to make sure people have the opportunity of good jobs, closer to home.

We need a much expanded Migration Impacts Fund to ensure abandoned communities get their fair share of the tax revenues from migrant work, with more funding for schools, hospitals and housing. And we need to restore the cuts to funding for English language courses.

We are also waiting for the detail of the white paper's promise to protect and enhance workers' rights when we leave the EU, in particular how that promise will be turned into a guarantee. Rights to paid holidays, parental rights, equal pay and health and safety need to be protected from bad bosses, hard right politicians and the whims of inexperienced judges.

It would do a great deal to convince working people she is serious about her promise to protect these rights if she started cracking down right away on the shady employment practices of the likes of Sports Direct and Uber.

The TUC campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU, and union members backed our case for defending workers' jobs and rights. But we accept the result. We're clear, though, that no one voted for workers to pay a price for the decision to leave.

The hard Brexit that the Government is planning would not be in the interests of British workers, which means it will not be in the interest of Britain.

Frances O'Grady is the general secretary of the TUC

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