Many employment protections we now take for granted were founded on EU law – including:
- protection against direct and indirect discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, religion or disability (EU Charter, Article 21 & Equality Directive 2000/43/EC)
- the right to equal pay and equal treatment for men and women (EU Charter, Article 23 & Equality Directive 2006/54/EC)
- the right to at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave (Pregnant Workers Directive 1992/85/EEC)
- the right to at least 4 weeks paid holiday every year (Working Time Directive 2003/88/EC)
- the right to extra time off for family reasons (Working Time Directive 2003/88/EC & Pregnant Workers Directive 1992/85/EEC)
- protection against dismissal if an employer is taken over (known as TUPE rights) (Transfer of Undertakings Regulations)
- requirements for clean air, water and sewerage in the workplace (Health and Safety Directive 1989/39/EEC & EU Occupational Safety and Health Framework 2014-2020)
- requirements for safety at work (Health and Safety Directive 1989/39/EEC & EU Occupational Safety and Health Framework 2014-2020)
- equal treatment rights for part-time, fixed and agency workers (Part-time work Directive 1997/81/EC & Fixed-term Workers Directive 1999/70/EC & Agency Workers Directive 2008/104/EC)
- the right to be forgotten (General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679)
After Brexit, the UK will no longer be compelled to comply with EU law. This means safeguards such as these will no longer be guaranteed – successive Governments will be free to change them as they see fit.
Under the proposed Withdrawal Bill from the EU, the Government would be entitled to so-called ‘Henry VIII Powers’. These are designed to enable the Government to amend or remove any EU law which has been transferred into UK law without the normal legal process and scrutiny of Parliament and MPs.
Employees’ and workers’ rights could be diluted after Brexit. For example, to conform with a Government’s political agenda or if businesses and organisations succeed in lobbying the Government – perhaps if their profit margins are squeezed as a result of an economic downturn or increased administrative or tariff burdens.
Some commentators believe the Government is already planning to do away with the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE), which contain important protections for outsourced workers and those affected by business buy-outs and takeovers. For example, TUPE puts a duty on employers to ensure that employees’ contractual entitlements transfer to a new employer, and that continuity of employment is preserved. Removing TUPE could reduce regulations and encourage investment in the UK – but it also risks putting profit before people.
For some, a vote to leave the UK was a chance to reduce protections and rights – ‘a bonfire of regulation’ – but did everyone vote to have their rights and protections diminished?