When did you last listen to the news or read a newspaper without there being some mention of Brexit?
We seem to have been talking about it forever and yet everything looks as confusing as it did two years ago when we gave formal notification to leave the EU. Rachel Clayfield dispels some of the myths around what will happen to employment law in the event of a no deal.
Myth 1: European law tends to be more employee friendly so we will lose a lot of our rights after Brexit.
No. A lot of our employment laws have nothing to do with Europe. We chose to introduce certain laws independent of the EU, including protection for workers from unfair dismissal, rights to request flexible working, shared parental leave, the national minimum wage and rights to statutory redundancy. And the EU isn’t always more generous than us. They only require member states to offer 4 weeks holiday per year, whereas UK workers get 5.6 weeks. We are much more generous when it comes to maternity leave too – 14 weeks is all member states have to provide. The UK offers 52.
Myth 2: But many of our laws come from the EU so if we leave without a deal they will disappear?
It’s true that a lot of our employment rights emanated from Europe including discrimination rights, collective consultation obligations, family leave, working time regulations and the transfer of undertakings regulations. But they won’t just disappear on exit day. On 23 August 2018 the Government published a technical notice on workplace rights in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This confirmed that on the day we leave Europe all EU law will be converted into UK law and all the UK law that implements EU obligations will be preserved. In other words, all workers in the UK will continue to be entitled to the employment rights they enjoy today.
Incidentally, if a deal is reached, the government announced last week that new protections for workers’ rights will be introduced in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. The measures include a commitment not to reduce the standards of workers’ rights from EU laws retained in UK law.
Myth 3: So there won’t be any changes at all.
Well, there's nothing to stop the UK Government amending some of our employment laws but this is likely to be a gradual process and there won’t be large scale repeals. Can you imagine the outcry if discrimination laws were repealed or health and safety regulations were removed? What is more likely is that there will be some tinkering around the edges. For instance, the government may choose to make it easier to harmonise terms and conditions of employment with existing staff following a TUPE transfer, or may limit holiday pay to basic pay rather than having to include bonuses and commission.
We should also remember that however we feel about Europe at the moment it is our neighbour and we do want to stay in a relationship with it. The price of a trade agreement with the EU is likely to be adherence to a certain amount of EU employment and social protection.
Of course, the political uncertainty in the UK could result in a general election. If this leads to a new government we could see major changes to employment law. But that’s a whole new ball game…….