Theresa May should use the negotiating skills and "huge expertise" of trade union chiefs to help the UK split from the EU, Frances O'Grady told IBTimes UK on Wednesday (15 February).

"I can't complain about access [to the government] but, as everyone knows, access isn't the same thing as influence. We've argued that trade unions should be at the table," the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said.

"It's a huge amount of expertise [and] negotiating skill, which I think Britain could do with. [As well as] plain common sense in our union ranks and leadership, which we are sorely lacking at the moment."

The comments come a month before the UK prime minister plans to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and trigger divorce talks with Brussels.

The negotiations are expected to last two years, with Britain breaking from the economic and political bloc in 2019.

First, the Article 50 bill needs to pass through the House of Lords, where peers have the power to amend and delay the draft legislation.

O'Grady, who unsuccessfully campaigned for Remain at the EU referendum, stressed that workers must not "pay a price" for Brexit. "They haven't recovered the wages they lost after the financial crash so they can't afford to take another hit to their pay packets," she said.

May has promised to protect workers' rights as the UK splits from the EU, but O'Grady is concerned about the prime minister's pledge not to maintain Britain's membership of the EU's single-market.

"What about the future? Are we going to see workers in Britain fall behind friends in other European countries and become an offshore, cheap-labour, low-rights haven compared to our EU neighbours?" the TUC general secretary said.

Another concern for O'Grady is that the government treats trade unions equally to business bodies (such as the Institute of Directors) and private sector chiefs as it seeks opinions on Brexit.

A source close to the Department for Exiting the EU told IBTimes UK that a "big phase" of the ministry's recent efforts has been to engage with trade union chiefs and other bodies without "prioritising one group over another."

Brexit Secretary David Davis, among other things, has been chairing roundtable events with an array of public and private sector groups.

"It's all very well inviting different groups in through the back door to do special deals for particular companies or particular industries, but that's not sustainable," O'Grady said. "This has to be a Brexit that's a success for working people and everybody."

And what outcome does the TUC chief want from Brexit? O'Grady called for a "new deal" for working people, with a more balanced economy and employment security, as a result of a "genuine national conversation".

"An awful lot of people feel that they have been abandoned... It would be a terrible political mistake to leave those people out in the cold now," she warned.