NEWS: UK protections for self-employed breach EU law, says report

Provisions for the sick and unemployed in the UK have been found to be “manifestly inadequate” in a report just published by the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR).

The UK’s health and safety laws are ‘not in conformity’ with its international legal obligations under the 1961 European Social Charter, which require that all workers have the right to safe and healthy working conditions, says the document issued on 5 February. 

Under the charter, all workers, including the self-employed must be covered by health and safety at work regulations.

“Therefore, the Committee considers that the situation is not in conformity with the Charter as regards self-employed workers,” it says.

Under Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 health and safety law does not apply to the self-employed, if their work activity poses no risk to the health and safety of others, including other workers and members of the public. The law is relatively recent in the UK, enforced from 1 October 2015.

The TUC points out that, not only does the report confirm the concerns it had at the time that the law would be ‘confusing and downright dangerous’, but that Brexit will make such workers even more vulnerable.

Writing on the TUC blog, head of safety, Hugh Robertson says: “We have a clear ruling that the government is not in compliance with a legally binding charter that they have signed up to.”

 “There is no mechanism to force the Government to obey its responsibilities under the Charter of Social Rights. This means that they will continue to deny millions of workers the protection that the UK Government promised to uphold.”

“This is particularly important at the moment because, if we end up with a situation where Britain no longer has to abide with the EU regulations on health and safety after Brexit, the only protection we are likely to have is that afforded by International regulations like those of the Council of Europe and the ILO. However they have already made it clear that they are not going to make the Charter of Social Rights enforceable and, of the 13 ILO conventions on health & safety, Britain has ratified 3, and even they are not directly enforceable in the UK courts.”

The European Social Charter was established to support the European Convention on Human Rights, and to broaden the scope of protected fundamental rights to include social and economic rights. 

Member countries (there are around 20 in the EU) must submit annual reports showing how they implement them in law and in practice.

The UK was assessed for workplace rights in the period 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2015.