Speculation on the possible effects of a ‘leave’ vote in the EU Referendum is now in full swing. Many commentators are of the view that it would have minimal impact on employment legislation and therefore the way in which our workplaces currently operate.
European Directives have spawned domestic legislation on a range of employment issues, to include working hours, holidays, equality and organisational change. The move towards equality of rights afforded to agency workers also has its origins in Europe, courtesy of the Agency Workers Directive 2008/104/EC.
These employment rights have become engrained in the fabric of UK employment legislation; is it realistic to think that the UK Government could or would repeal or amend these to a significant degree after Brexit?
Many of these rights are considered a positive by employers and employees alike, and in fact the UK has opted to introduce rights which go beyond those imposed by Europe in some areas, such as in relation to family leave. There is likely to be a strong consensus in favour of the status quo should the government moot a watering down of employment rights.
Other European Directives have simply restated the principles of legislation which existed prior to the UK joining the EU, most notably the statutory prohibition of race and sex discrimination, and any significant legislative change to these rights is therefore unlikely.
The European Court will no longer have jurisdiction over our domestic courts when it comes to interpreting legislation. However, unless and until domestic law is repealed or substantially amended, any cases at European level are likely to remain pertinent to the way our UK courts interpret domestic employment legislation.
What about EU workers currently employed in UK businesses? Changes to the immigration system are bound to be introduced in due course, although a wholesale repatriation of EU workers upon Brexit is probably unworkable. Rules which grant existing EU workers permanent residency is thought more likely. In terms of hiring new workers from the EU, this could prove more problematic, unless the UK agrees a deal on the free movement of workers, perhaps as part of a free trade deal.
There will be undoubtedly some areas of legislation which fall to be reviewed or repealed on a case by case basis over the years, but any reduction in employment rights would take some time to filter into UK workplaces. The European derived enhanced rights will in many cases be incorporated into contracts of employment, and will therefore remain enforceable by the employee as a matter of contract law.
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