Many gender equality protections we take for granted have come about as a consequence of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and other EU law – including:
Membership of the EU ensures equality is enshrined in law
- the requirement that women and men must be treated equally throughout society is set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
- the EU Charter and EU law prohibit discrimination based on gender (Equality Directive 2000/43/EC & Equality Directive 2006/54/EC)
- equal pay was a core founding principle of the EU (The Treaty of Rome 1957)
The EU ensures basic rights in relation to pregnancy and families (Pregnant Workers Directive 1992/85/EEC)
- the EU requires UK employers to provide pregnant workers with at least 14 weeks paid maternity leave, of which 2 weeks must occur before birth
- requires UK employers to provide the option of parental leave
- provides for paid time off for antenatal appointments during working hours
- ensures employees are entitled to return to their job after maternity leave
- ensures employees can have extra time off for family reasons, accidents, illness of children
- prevents dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy
- ensures pregnant and breastfeeding workers are not obliged to perform duties that would jeopardise their safety or health.
The EU ensures safety of women across borders
- restraining orders issued in one EU country are recognised in others (Directive 2011/99/EC European Protection Order)
Carers and the EU
- the EU prohibits discrimination against employees due to their carer status or relationship to a disabled person (Equality Directive 2000/43/EC & Coleman v Attridge Law, 2008 ECJ judgment)
- 58% of the 6.5 million unpaid carers in the UK are women – so this particularly protects women
The Government says there will be no reduction in protection for women as a result of Brexit.
BUT without the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the underpinning of EU law, women will be unable to go to the European Court of Justice if they need to enforce their rights. In addition, they will not automatically benefit from future developments in EU law.
As it will be possible for UK equality laws to be amended by successive Governments – so UK politicians will be free to remove and diminish protections for women:
- if they consider them too burdensome on employers
- or too expensive
- or undesirable for any other reason
In 2012, a Conservative MEP wanted to scrap pregnant worker and agency worker regulations calling them “barriers to employment” – he is now a Brexit minister (Lord Martin Callanan addressing the European Parliament in 2012).
Social care and EU funding
- women as carers are also the most likely to have to fill any gaps in social and health care that may arise as a result of Brexit
- 7% of adult social care workers and 5% of nurses are from the EU
- if freedom of movement is restricted, there are likely to be fewer EU workers
- this could mean women have to leave jobs so they can care for elderly and other family members
- currently EU funding provides support to disabled people and other disadvantaged groups – including £300 million to charities
- if funding is not replaced after Brexit, women are likely to have to provide this support instead