David Cameron was much like the obnoxious wealthy housemate who is the first to move out before the tenancy is up. He leaves crockery under his bed, covered in tea dregs old enough to grow sentient life, and takes a good long pee in the shower before leaving you to recover your deposit. David Cameron knew he would not be standing for another term after the referendum and announced his resignation just hours after he had lost. The next Prime Minister was left to clean up the mess.
I was never a fan of Theresa May, but as she set about the thankless task of attempting to deliver on a Brexit vote that half the voting population did not ask for (and more than half of 16-17 year olds too young to vote did not want), I couldn’t help thinking about what Alan Bennett says in his play The History Boys:
“History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.”
Women’s security is set to be at a far greater risk if we leave the EU. Many of the EU laws set up to protect women from existing power structures will not automatically be transferred to UK law if we leave.
Before the referendum, women had already been suffering as a result of the government’s decision to scrap legal aid. Sex discrimination claims have fallen by 76% according to an Equality & Human Rights Commission report, with equal pay claims in Scotland falling by two thirds. Now there is a further possibility that we will lose the right to appeal such unjust working practices in any case. These rights benefit not only women, but people of all genders. And we will need to fight for them again if we leave the EU.
Post-Brexit, the government looks set to limit our rights to equality under the guise of giving companies more freedom to expand. However, in the UK it has been shown that as equality policies such as maternity rights have improved, women have found it easier to find work. Likewise, as rights for part-time workers have improved, the number of people taking up part-time work has increased.
The EU has given us the following rights, which we could lose if Brexit goes ahead:
- The EU guarantees the right to equal pay for work of equal value. Under UK law, equal pay only covers two people performing the same job. This is often difficult to prove where two jobs are of equal value but are not exactly the same. For instance, in 2012 women in cleaning jobs for Birmingham council were able to prove discrimination when they were paid less than mostly-male street cleaners.
- After Brexit, employees may need to provide even more evidence if they have been discriminated against than they do now. Currently the EU places the burden of proof on the employer to show that they did not discriminate, once a reasonable case has been brought. The EU has recognised that it is so easy for employers to cover up any discriminatory practices that the burden of proof would be very difficult for employees.
- The EU guarantees equal pay for part-time workers. Because of Brexit, part-time workers could lose the right to be paid the same hourly wage as full-time workers doing the same job.
- The EU guarantees paid holiday for part-time workers. Part-time workers were not entitled to paid holiday before the EU introduced the Working Time Directive.
- The EU protects against dismissal for pregnancy. The EU made it illegal to dismiss a woman for being pregnant. Before EU regulations were brought in, women in the UK had to prove that they had been treated differently to how a sick man would be treated in the same situation.
- The EU guarantees the right to work without being verbally harassed. The EU forced the UK to amend its Sex Discrimination Act to prevent what was known as ‘the bastard defence’, where you could get away with saying obscene sexual things to a woman at work as long as you said obscene things to some men as well.
- The EU has given women the right to paid time off for prenatal appointments.
- The EU’s Parental Leave Directive gives parents the right to time off to care for dependents.
There are many more rights that have been written into UK law as a result of EU changes. We need to understand what we are giving up on if Brexit goes ahead in October, particularly for women. We will have a long fight ahead to regain these rights, and we will not have our sister organisations in the EU to support us.