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Published on June 16th, 2016 | by Prospect

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Rights for workers with disabilities and the risk of Brexit

By Barrie Worth, Chair of CMD South branch and a member of the CMD Sector Executive

I recently attended the TUC Disabled Workers Conference as a Prospect delegate. As you would expect, the question of the EU referendum was a topic of discussion. Indeed the TUC Briefing – Disabled Rights, Risk of Brexit [https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Disability%20rights%20and%20EU.pdf] – was launched at the conference.

EU legislation for disabled people covers a huge range of sectors, from accessible buses to braille on medicine. However, a House of Lords select committee investigation reported last month that the current Tory government was failing to uphold EU legislation in many areas. This is happening while we are a member of the EU; do you think the voice of the TUC and other disability organisations would be loud enough to compel the current and future governments to enact the same level of anti-discrimination legislation we currently enjoy via the EU? I’m afraid I don’t!

There continues to be EU action to improve standards – the proposed General Accessibility regulations, for example. If we vote to leave these would not apply to disabled people in the UK, unless the UK government chooses to copy them and what are the chances of that!

There is one point that frequently gets lost in the debate. Exiting the EU would not automatically lead to exiting the European Convention of Human Rights. Participation in the ECHR is a requirement for membership of the EU, but participation in the ECHR does not require membership of the EU. Having said that, is a Tory government that is intending to abolish the Human Rights Act 1998 likely to continue membership of the ECHR? The Human Rights Act has been used extensively by disabled people to protect themselves and advance the cause of equality, diversity and inclusion as well as to fight discrimination. If the HRA disappears and we exit the ECHR (which we cannot do if we remain in the EU) then the protections from which all workers currently benefit could be seriously eroded.

The EU has certainly led the way in supporting anti-discrimination legislation, and on occasion has taken countries to court for failure to implement it. If we left the EU, disabled people would lose this protection.

As I was preparing my papers for the conference I noticed that leading charity The Papworth Trust has just published a report highlighting how disabled people could be affected by this crucial debate. The report contains information about the relationship between the EU and disability in the UK. The Trust’s intention is for the report, entitled The EU and Disabled People, to inform debate and elevate the issues for disabled people to consider ahead of the referendum.


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