Addressing the annual TUC Disabled Workers Conference, she said: “Brexit would be a huge gamble with disabled people’s rights.
“EU law has strengthened disability discrimination protections, and it guarantees disability rights for the future.
“The European Court of Justice has taken a positive and wide-ranging approach to disability rights. Thanks to the EU there is no cap on compensation for victims of disability discrimination and no exemptions for small employers.
She went on: “Brexit campaigners may call it ‘red tape’, but for disabled workers it is their right to equality, their right to justice and fair compensation if they suffer discrimination.
“Nobody knows exactly how bad rights for disabled workers could get outside of the EU, but we can be sure it would be worse.”
Frances O’Grady’s speech coincided with the publication of a TUC briefing on what EU membership has meant for disabled workers, and the problems that might follow Brexit.
An EU directive was adopted in 2000 that required legal rights for disabled workers across the EU.
It led to improvements to the Disability Discrimination Act – for example it ended the exemption for small businesses; it closed the loophole that allowed an employer to justify direct discrimination because of disability; and it introduced specific rights to protect people from disability-related harassment.
As well as strengthening disabled workers rights in the UK, EU law guarantees those rights for the future.
EU law also requires effective sanctions against businesses that do not comply – which is why there is no cap on compensation for victims of disability discrimination.
The TUC does not suggest that all EU-derived rights would be lost immediately, but warns instead that they could be eroded over time.
An example of how this could happen is the ‘Red Tape Challenge’ launched by the coalition Government in 2010. The Equality Act was the first piece of legislation to feature on it and the Government asked whether it should be scrapped.
EU law helped defend many of the rights contained in the Act, so the Government ended up repealing very little. But if the UK had been outside of the EU, equality protections could have been significantly weakened, say the TUC.