Will employment laws change post-Brexit?
The UK has now withdrawn from the EU but what, if any, employment law changes will there be and what, if any, impact will that have on employers and indeed employees’ rights?
Many readers will be aware that much of the UK employment laws (think of the Working Time Regulations as one example) derive from and implement EU Directives, and had to be interpreted in a manner which was consistent with the underlying EU directive and any decisions of the European Court of Justice. There has been much speculation and talk in the lead up to Brexit that UK employment laws would drastically change and employees would lose fundamental rights. The Trade and Co-Operation Agreement (Trade Agreement) was being carefully watched to see if this was to be the case but with this now implemented, what is the position? In short, the UK can now depart from future EU employment laws and indeed amend retained EU employment laws.
Moving forward, the UK is in essence free to do as it pleases, subject to any departure from EU employment law not being in a manner which “materially impacts trade and investment”. In this case, the EU can invoke a dispute resolution process and, if there is no agreement the EU can impose trade tariffs on goods coming from the UK.
Also, in response to a Financial Times report that suggested that the government was going to “rip up” EU based employment law rights, Business Secretary Mr Kwasi Kwarteng confirmed via Twitter that the government “[is] not going to lower the standards of workers’ rights“, stating that it intends to “protect and enhance workers’ rights going forward“, rather than to row back on them.
There has also been some suggestion that the government consultation on employment rights post-Brexit had been signed off by Ashok Sharma (the previous Business Secretary). Mr Kwarteng confirmed that BEIS was carrying out a consultation with business leaders on EU employment rules, including the Working Time Directive. Confirming that a review was happening, Mr Kwarteng suggested this was “to look at the whole range of issues relating to our EU membership and examine what we wanted to keep“. He went on to say: “I know there’s been stories in the newspapers that there’s going to be some sort of bonfire of rights. This could not be further from the truth.”
So what can we take from this? Well we know there will be a review and likely changes made in the future. However, given what the government has on its hands at the moment with Covid and the process involved of changing laws, any changes are unlikely in my view to come into force until the end of the year at the earliest (more likely next year and the years ahead). So it will take several years until we can really establish what, if any, impact Brexit had on employment laws in this country. To put everything into context, it is worth reflecting on the fact that previously the UK has gone beyond EU Directives when implementing laws in the UK, for example enhancing minimum statutory holiday requirements, so to revert from this position would be nonsensical. It is also worth remembering that many UK employment laws are entirely the invention of the UK parliament (such as unfair dismissal as one example) so these are unlikely to change as a direct result of Brexit, but that’s not to say the UK parliament will not change existing UK employment laws perhaps in response to the current pandemic and knock on effect on the economy.
In conclusion, yes changes will probably take place slowly but surely, and not on a drastic scale as has been speculated. Naturally, as and when any employment laws do change, we will keep you posted.
I will be discussing this and more at Travlaw’s online Big Tent Event on Thursday 28th January – also featuring a panel discussion from Mark Tanzer of ABTA, ABTOT Member Jess Dennison from Latin Routes, and Paul Charles from The PC Agency. Numbers are limited and going fast, so make sure to book your place today! Travlaw’s Big Tent Event 2021 – “Hope Springs” – Travlaw LLP Solicitors
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