How Will Brexit Affect Workers’ Rights?
With the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) fast approaching, working people are still uncertain about what could happen to their hard-won rights when Brexit happens.
EU law has impacted UK employment law with the provision of rights for part-time and fixed term workers, paid holiday entitlement, working time protection and agency worker rights, among others. To explain the potential effects Brexit may have on workers’ rights, East Midlands-based law firm Nelsons held a workshop at its Nottingham office on Tuesday (5 March).
Associate and employment law solicitor Melanie Morton, who hosted the event, said: “UK workers have benefitted from employment rights that derive from European laws for many years. In fact, many people do not realise that some of the protections they enjoy at work are in place because the UK has had to implement certain laws and follow case law as a result of its EU membership.
“The uncertainty surrounding Brexit has understandably left a lot of workers worried about what could happen to their rights when we leave the EU, but it’s important to remember that it is unlikely any immediate changes will happen from an employment law perspective.”
What are the potential effects Brexit may have on my job?
Melanie, who has been advising on employment law matters since 2007, said: “The EU Withdrawal Act 2018 effectively converts EU law into UK law so that there is no legislative hole the day after Brexit and rights relating to working time, holiday, family leave, discrimination and agency workers will remain in effect, unless or until that legislation is amended.
“The government has also issued a technical notice about workers’ rights saying that regardless of whether or not we get a deal, employees will continue to enjoy the level of protection they are currently entitled to under EU law.”
Could this change once the dust has settled?
Melanie said: “In the long term, dependent on which party is in power, we might see changes. There are many aspects of our current protection that employers, business groups and associates do not love so a few pieces of legislation could be, loosely speaking, under threat.
“For example, our government was resistant to the working time rules (which impose a 48-hour working week) and agency worker rights (which offer equal pay and conditions for agency workers) during EU negotiations. Some businesses are also not keen on the EU law which offers parents up to 18 weeks per child of unpaid parental leave as this can be quite disruptive on the workforce.”
Is there anything else I need to know?
“Leaving the EU will also mean the end of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which provides guidance on the application of EU law to domestic courts and tribunals, in the UK,” said Melanie.
“This means UK courts will not be able to refer cases to the ECJ, a court that has been known to interpret the law more favourably for workers than the British courts.
“It’s also important to remember that we have come to expect a certain level of protection. Changes to primary legislation requires parliamentary approval and the government will have to decide if political reform of our employment law is desirable.
“Some of the principles are intrinsically entwined in our working life – scrapping or reducing entitlements could therefore be difficult from both a legal and an employee relations perspective.”