WORKERS will be vulnerable to discrimination based on sex, race and age as well as on sexual orientation when Britain leaves the UK, a senior lawyer will tell MSPs today.

Patrick McGuire, a solicitor advocate at Thompsons in Glasgow, said legislation from the European Union had forced Westminster to enshrine these protections in British law.

He is warning MSPs a Tory government in London would set about dismantling these employment rights as well as others governing health and safety and equality laws once Britain had left the EU.

“The last 20 years have seen a revolution in the development of core employment law protections for workers. It is no longer lawful to discriminate against workers on the basis of their age, race or sexual orientation; to pay women less than men; to allow people to work long hours which damage their health; or to treat working women less favourably because they are pregnant,” he told MSPs in a submission sent to a Holyrood committee ahead of its meeting today.

“All of these advances, with their wide-ranging benefits in creating a fairer society, have come about through EU law... In fact, the only workers’ rights which are not derived directly from European law relate to the right not to be unfairly dismissed and to be paid the minimum wage. With the very clear attitude of the current government at Westminster to workers’ individual and collective rights, Brexit has left Scottish workers extremely vulnerable in terms of health and safety law, employment rights and discrimination.”  He added: “The most vulnerable workers in Scottish society – low-paid men and women in precarious employment – have been protected from exploitative work not by Westminster but by Brussels.”

McGuire is calling for employment and equality rights, as well as health and safety legislation, to be devolved to Holyrood in order to allow the Scottish Parliament to pass laws which would continue to protect workers post-Brexit.

He suggested that in planning the Scotland Act 1998 politicians had not anticipated the UK withdrawing from the EU, allowing such powers to reside at Westminster as the European Commission was ultimately responsible for most legislation in these areas. However, with Brexit now on the horizon such powers should be devolved, he said.

“Brexit represented a significant shift in the balance of legislative power between Holyrood and Westminster in a way that was simply not in the contemplation of the public or the politicians at the time of the original Scotland Act or any additional legislation extending the devolution settlement," he said.  “That is because everyone recognised that, in the main, the real legislative power in relation to health and safety law and, to a large extent, employment and equalities law, lay with the European Union.  “No-one would have suggested that Westminster had any significant autonomy over those issues. That is, in many ways, why health and safety law and employment law was reserved to Westminster in the original Scotland Act. It is therefore appropriate and necessary to revisit the devolution settlement in light of Brexit and the significant additional powers it hands to Westminster at the expense of the Scottish Parliament.”

He added: “Thompsons Solicitors believe that health and safety, employment law and equalities should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.”

McGuire will be among experts addressing MSPs today on Holyrood’s economy committee which is holding an inquiry into the economic impact of leaving the EU. His evidence emerged as it was revealed Scottish councils stand to lose £46 million a year in funding from the EU, a figure unearthed following a freedom of information requests to councils by Tavish Scott MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrat spokesman for Europe.

According to the figures from 30 of the 32 councils, in the past four years more than £127 million of funding has been assigned to Scotland’s local authorities from EU sources to fund projects including road improvements, support for businesses and anti-poverty measures.

He said: “These figures reveal just how beneficial EU funding has been for council projects and the material threat posed by the UK’s departure from the EU. The UK and Scottish governments must now explain how disruption to these projects will be minimised and the loss of funding mitigated.”