IF there is one group of people who could stop a hard Brexit in its tracks, it is the trade unions, especially those in the public services.
Should a hard Brexit mean the forced repatriation of tens of thousands of EU nationals who shore up our NHS, councils and other public services, trade unions like Unison are hardly likely to stand by and let it happen, and yet they are not high on the list of the Tory Government’s consultees.
At the moment, however, in common with most unions, Unison is awaiting the terms of the deal between the UK and EU which Prime Minister Theresa may says will happen after she triggers Article 50 later this month.
Loading article content
A hard Brexit with no deal brings a ton of risks for Scotland’s public sector. Dave Watson, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Unison Scotland, summed them up: loss of EU workers, particularly in the health and care sector; EU employment rights being lost or watered down; similar concerns over a wide range of European legislation, mostly covering regulatory standards in the environment and elsewhere; concerns over recognition of qualifications, and a funding shortfall for councils from programmes supported by EU funds.
Watson said: “While it was not the outcome that we campaigned for, the union has a duty to minimise any adverse impact on its members.
“Unison’s core message on Brexit is that the general public wants well-funded and quality public services with beneficial workplace rights and regulations for workers.
“There are four strands to the Union’s Brexit considerations – starting with a deal that has the best positive and least negative impact on the UK economy to ensure stability of funding for public services. That entails maximum access for UK manufacturing goods and services to the EU single market – although we have been critical of the single market in the past.
“The second and third strands are protection of employment rights, free movement and right to remain for EU citizens and other migrant workers with reciprocal guarantees for UK workers in the EU and other countries.”
“Fourthly, we must have high standards of environmental and consumer protection, public procurement, etc, which must not be compromised by future trade agreements with either EU or other countries.”
The union’s priority just now is the protection of EU nationals here: “The immediate focus is on the economic consequences for public spending and protecting Unison members who are EU nationals working in Scotland with current estimate between 4,000 and 5,000,” added Watson.
“Current estimates suggest that the Scottish economy will lose between £1.7bn and £11.2bn a year by 2019-20 depending on UK Government spending plans. Close examination shows that there are few Scottish public services that will not affected by the Brexit decision.
“There is poor workforce data on EU nationals in Scotland but estimates suggest 4 per cent of our NHS nurses and midwives and 1,400 doctors are from EU countries. Dentistry might also reflect these figures.
“Scottish Care, which represents private care home providers, estimates that 14 to 16 per cent of their workers were born in other EU countries. “