The European Committee of Social Rights has ruled that exemptions in UK safety law for specified types of self-employed persons is discriminatory and breaches the European Social Charter (ESC), also known as the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

On 24 January, the Committee, a monitoring body of the 47-nation Council of Europe, ruled that a change in UK law in 2015 which removed certain self-employed work from provisions under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, breached the UK’s international obligations under the ESC.

The UK is a participant in the original 1961 Council of Europe treaty, which protects economic, social and cultural rights. A revised ESC, which included additional rights, was agreed in 1995 and although the UK has signed this revision it has yet to ratify it. The Charter includes fundamental rights in the field of social policy generally (health, social security, welfare), and specifically in the fields of employment and industrial relations, including the rights to work, to just conditions of work, to a fair remuneration and to organise and bargain collectively.

Whilst the Committee recognised that the exemptions only covered those who undertake less risky work, they added that this still resulted in the UK failing to comply with its ESC obligations. They said: “All workers, including the self-employed, must be covered by health and safety at work regulations as long as employed and self-employed workers are normally exposed to the same risks.”