NEWS: Brexit Employment Rights Update
How would your rights at work be affected?
It has now been almost four months since the UK voted to leave the EU so what more do we know about how Brexit might affect our employment rights?
At the Conservative Party Conference this month, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, made clear that Article 50 will be triggered by March 2017 – which will then give us two years to negotiate our exit.
As a lot of our laws relating to our rights at work come from the European Union, there is concern that these will be abandoned once we leave the EU.
However, the Prime Minister Theresa May indicated at the conference this month that workers’ rights will be protected.
She announced that the government will introduce a bill which will convert all existing EU law into UK law. However, that will mean that once we have withdrawn from the EU, the government could also repeal or amend any of the laws.
The Working Time Directive
The Working Time Directive is one of the most significant laws that comes from the EU. The Directive led to the Working Time Regulations which for the first time gave workers in this country the right to paid annual leave, put restrictions on the number of hours that people could work and gave the right to rest breaks.
It ensured that all employees would be entitled to a minimum of 20 days’ annual leave. However, the UK government increased this to 28 days, including bank holidays, which suggests that this may not be changed after Brexit.
On the other hand, recent cases in the European Court of Justice have ruled that overtime payments and other allowances must also be included in calculations for holiday pay. So rather than repeal the right to paid holiday entirely, the government could just say that when you take your holiday you are only entitled to basic pay. For some people, this could mean that they are much worse off.
In addition, whether the government would retain the restrictions on working time (which can already be opted out of) is likely to be more of a grey area.
Another law that comes from Europe is the Temporary Agency Work Directive which gives agency workers the same rights as permanent staff in relation to terms and conditions, including pay.
This law is unpopular law with British business as it can drive up the wage bill so there is a high chance that it could be amended upon the UK’s exit from the EU. This will be bad news for the increasing number of agency workers in the UK.
In addition, a lot of our anti – discrimination laws originated in Europe, for example the right not to be treated less favourably on the grounds of age or sexual orientation. Maternity rights have also been strongly influenced by the EU – for example the right not to be treated less favourably due to pregnancy or maternity leave. Having said that, the UK also allows women to take longer time off for maternity leave that the EU dictated and we have also introduced things liked shared parental leave, so it is unclear whether or not the government would seek to erode family friendly rights at work.
Speaking at the Conservative party conference, Theresa May said workers’ rights were “not under threat from a Conservative government” but that they would be “protected and enhanced”.
She said: “We’re going to review our laws to make sure that, in our modern and flexible economy, people are properly protected at work.”
At the same conference, Brexit secretary David Davis, stated that “To those who are trying to frighten British workers, saying, ‘When we leave, employment rights will be eroded,’ I say firmly and unequivocally, ‘no they won’t’.”
Whether the government stick to these promises in the months ahead remains to be seen.