How Will Brexit Affect Employment Rights?

March 19th 2021 | Posted by phil scott

Given the amount of discussion concerning issues such as fishing rights, workers’ rights seem to have been something of an afterthought in the Brexit deal.

However, they are a vital consideration, for HR professionals and the employees that they support.

There has been much talk about whether and how rights will be impacted in both the short and long term. Nothing is set in stone right now but there are certain factors that are important to consider as part of the discussion.

Changes unlikely in the short-term

In truth, it’s unlikely that there will be any changes to employment rights in the short term. This is due to the non-regression clause that was part of the agreement. This clause means that the UK Government cannot change any employment laws that were originally made within the EU if the change would affect trade or investment.

Some experts have suggested that the clause is not strong enough to prevent the erosion of workers’ rights as proving any effect would be difficult. Even so, it seems that changes are unlikely to be made in the immediate future.

Could there be a slow erosion of rights?

Over the years, several politicians in the UK have hinted at finding protections like the Working Time Directive to be onerous and a burden for businesses. There is also constant discussion in these areas between the business world and the union movement. Given that the effect of changes on trade and investment might be difficult to prove, there is a possibility that these beliefs and discussions may lead to gradual changes over the coming years.

However, to bring some balance to the equation, it’s worth noting that many protections are part of UK regulation and not directly related to the EU. For example, there is no requirement to have a minimum wage within the EU.

The impact of the pandemic

The pandemic has brought the need for rights such as wage protection and equality further into the spotlight. It also delayed the implementation of the employment bill commitments that were included in the Queen’s Speech, in December 2019. The improved rights that were part of this bill include a right to flexible working by default.

Although the implementation of these measures has been delayed, it’s unlikely that the Government will want to backtrack on them to any great extent.

HR professionals will be relieved if this proves to be the case. They will also be happy to see that many employers are dealing with the current situation in a reasonable and thoughtful manner. They are implementing measures such as reduced hours rather than heading straight to redundancies as an answer.

Changes in the longer term

There are some changes that certainly look like they could happen in the long-term. For example, holiday pay may be calculated using only basic pay rather than including some bonus and overtime payments. There could also be changes to the Working Time Directive with many businesses feeling the current 48-hour cap on weekly working hours unless the employee opts out, is too restrictive.

However, it’s highly unlikely that any changes to employment rights will happen until the initial issues over the Brexit deal are dealt with. So HR managers and employees do not need to be immediately concerned but will still need to keep ahead of developments as the months and years progress.

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