Retained EU Law Bill threatens workplace safety, unions say

Unions, employers and occupational health and safety bodies have written to the UK government to raise concerns that the Retained EU Law Bill will scrap key workplace safety protections.

Signatories of the letter include the British Medical Association, The British Occupational Hygiene Society, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the Trades Union Congress. 

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The bill was introduced in 2022 by former secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) Jacob Rees-Mogg to put an end to EU-based legislation that remains in UK law post-Brexit. 

Relating to key employment rights, the letter said it is unclear if the bill will protect workers’ safety legislation. 

It reads: “With no indication from ministers about which parts of the current regime will be retained, reformed or allowed to lapse, there is huge uncertainty about which rules will be in place less than 10 months from now. 

“This is of enormous concern to all of us because it is not an exaggeration to say that workplace health and safety can be a matter of life and death.” 

Concern was raised about The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Work at Height Regulations 2005, all of which were put into place during the UK’s time as an EU member.

Ruth Wilkinson, head of policy at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), said the bill could lead to reduced worker protections. 

Speaking HR magazine, she said: “This comes at a time when workers, employers and governments have witnessed the value of good occupational health and safety practice at work during the pandemic, which supported workers to remain in work and return to work. 

“We recommend the employment and health and safety regulations are withdrawn from the bill in its current form.  

“Failing this, we recommend extending the deadline to allow for proper review with impact assessments to be made.” 

Patrick Brodie, head of the employment, engagement and equality practice at international law firm RPC, said removing EU-derived laws could make many feel insecure in their workplace. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: "From my own experience, both personal and observed, I recognise that workplace insecurity risks much including well-being, a sense of self, engagement and, also, wider economic participation – when there is uncertainty, we spend less.   

"At a time when public policy is to encourage people to return to or join the workplace and strengthen our economy, finding the right balanced answer to the bill is in all our interests." 

The deadline for completion of the revocation and reform of retained EU law was set for 31 December 2023. 

Mamata Dutta, legal director at international law firm RPC, said the bill was drafted with the intention to "take control back" from the EU. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "The decision that is needed is whether or not retained EU legislation should be replaced.  

“If it is, it cannot be replaced with legislation that is more burdensome, as the intent behind Brexit and the Retained EU Law Bill is to push towards deregulation.  

“However, as matters stand, there is significant uncertainty as to what the government will do and what impact the provisions of the REUL Bill may have.”