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Thursday, 30 June 2016

Will Brexit Mean “a Bonfire for Workers’ Rights”?

Both sides in the Brexit TV debates made dramatic claims about the repercussions of the referendum result. At one heated point Angela Eagle, the Labour MP, exclaimed that a vote to leave would mean “a bonfire for workers’ rights”. This was one of the slogans on Vote Remain posters.

Now we’re calming down again, how likely is it that once the terms of the UK’s exit are negotiated, all European employment law will be thrown out, and there will be no employment rights left in the UK?

To start with, most employment protection rights, especially unfair dismissal and the employment tribunal process were created by the UK independently without the EU. Equal pay, race and disability discrimination laws all existed in some form in the UK before being imposed by Europe, and there was a UK right of return from maternity leave long before recent EU parental rights laws. These fundamental pieces of legislation won’t change.

On the other hand, some EU legislation is very unpopular with UK businesses and if anything is tweaked to make it more commercially acceptable or repealed entirely, it’s likely to be these three:

  • TUPE: the principle that employees should transfer when a business changes hands or is contracted out is well recognised, but the government might choose to make it easier to harmonise employment terms within the business.
  • The Working Time Regulations, governing areas such as employee working hours, holidays and rest breaks, is often felt to place an administrative burden on employers and undermine labour flexibility. The most likely tweak is to remove the 48-hour limit on weekly working hours and the related record-keeping. Another is to repeal the limits to accrue and carry over holiday pay. New rules could specifically exclude fluctuating payments such as commission or overtime from calculations of holiday pay, a doubtful recent ruling from the EU.
  • Agency Workers Regulations, requiring agency workers to be paid the same rate for a job as permanent staff after 12 weeks, are seen by many employers as an unwieldy problem - and aren’t noticeably popular with workers either. Repealing these would reduce business costs and record-keeping requirements.

Discrimination laws and family friendly working legislation seem far less likely to be affected. Employment rights such as family leave, discrimination law and even the right to paid holiday are now widely accepted; indeed, family leave rights in this country go further than required by EU directives.

If you aren’t confident that your business is complying with these pieces of legislation right now, contact us right away on enquiries@thehr.co.uk!

In any case, as we know nothing will change legally for some time. It will take us at least 2 years to extricate the UK from the EU, and perhaps considerably longer than that to agree exit terms. Then start repealing and tweaking. Something at least to look forward to….

In the meantime, European imposed legislation still applies. If you have some niggling worries that you may be breaking employment law unintentionally within your business and not meeting your legal responsibilities, then get in touch with The Human Resource on enquiries@thehr.co.uk. We’ll be pleased to arrange an initial review of your existing practices.