Following our discussion at the September branch meeting on Brexit, the motion was passed by the IWGB Executive Committee – see below for a letter from our general secretary:
I’m writing to inform you of our position on Brexit, which we will be announcing publicly. Before the referendum the IWGB had a policy to support Remain, mainly due to concern over our large contingent of membership working in the UK on EU passports and due to concerns over the impact of Brexit on EU-derived employment law. There are four key areas where Brexit, in particular a hard Brexit, is likely to have detrimental impacts on the IWGB and our members:
1. Immigration. Nearly all of the Cleaners and Facilities Branch members are here on EU passports. A huge proportion of the University of London Branch members are as well. Some members in all of the other branches, including Couriers and UPHD, will be too. And 50% of our staff are here on EU passports. Restrictions on free movement could make it harder for them to bring family members over, or depending on the type of Brexit, hard for them even to stay in this country. Further, the environment and discourse around immigration has become increasingly toxic, with Brexit greatly contributing to this toxicity.
2. Employment law. A large number of employment rights are derived from EU law. The importance of EU law is that: (i) in some cases it introduces rights which didn’t previously exist in the UK (e.g. paid holidays), (ii) the law is ultimately interpreted by an EU court which on the whole is more progressive and pro-worker than UK courts, and (iii) EU law in effect supersedes domestic law, so the Tories are unable to shred employment rights that come from the EU, even with a supermajority. The IWGB relies on EU law rights to defend members on a daily basis, e.g. paid holidays, protection from discrimination, TUPE, etc. EU law also forms a central plank to various branches’ legal strategies, e.g. the ICE regulations which are used in UoL branch. Further, the foster care branches’ current legal strategy is largely dependent on EU law superseding UK law.
3. Economy. There is a virtual consensus among economists that a hard Brexit will result in an economic shock and a big decrease in government revenues. We know from past experience that those who bear the biggest brunt of any economic shock and cuts in government spending are low-paid workers, e.g. our members, who have already had to struggle against the austerity agenda. This will inevitably be the same with any negative economic impact from Brexit.
4. Inability of Government to get anything done. Brexit is all consuming and Parliament is hard pressed to focus on anything that isn’t Brexit-related. This is particularly the case when Parliament and the current government are focusing on creating a new arrangement rather than choosing an off-the-shelf option such as remaining in the single market and adopting EU law into UK law, which would require much less change. The IWGB needs Parliament to be able to engage with non-Brexit issues, e.g. a central plank of the foster care strategy is to get Parliament to pass legislation regulating the industry. Similarly, we are calling on legislation on behalf of UPHD branch to give more powers to licensing bodies in particular to cap private hire driver license numbers.
The trade union movement is becoming increasingly vocal on these issues. The TUC has called for a soft Brexit and a referendum on the final deal if it looks like the deal won’t be in the interests of workers, GMB has called for a referendum on the final deal, UNITE has left open the option of another referendum, etc. Although the IWGB is not a big player, we are of the size and profile to have an influence on certain sections of the public. Therefore, our taking a position could contribute, in albeit a small way, to a concrete result which (as outlined above) would directly benefit our members.
For these reasons the IWGB Executive Committee voted overwhelmingly to adopt the following position:
1. The people should be given a vote on the final Brexit deal.
2. Failing the above, Brexit should take the softest possible form, in particular by remaining in the single market with the institution’s protections for free movement and by incorporation of EU-derived employment law.
Dr. Jason Moyer-Lee