The Implications of Leave for the UK Workplace

24/06/2016 16:44 | Updated 24 June 2016

This morning, Britain has voted to Leave the European Union. What does this mean for the UK workplace in terms of workplace rights? In short, Britain will soon be able to set its own immigration and employment laws. This does mark a fundamental change in the legal and constitutional changes for the UK. We will no longer need to give effect to UK Directives in the UK: everything will be up for grabs. For business, some mandatory overheads (imposed by EU Directives) will go. Equally, some important employment rights may be scaled back. What is likely to happen, in practice?

Immigration: in the long run, this will be the big change. When the UK formally leaves the European Union (in two years, or less) the UK will no longer be bound by the EU right to freedom of movement. The following rule (set out in the Treaty of Rome and ratified by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009) will no longer apply "Every worker in the European Union shall have the right to freedom of movement throughout the territory of the Community, subject to restrictions justified on grounds of public order, public safety or public health." Britain will introduce an Australian-style points system. This will apply to all non-UK workers - not just all non-EU workers (as is effectively the case at present). It will be an end to the pro-EU bias in the UK workplace. In the UK, that it has been effectively "cost-free" to recruit workers from the other 27 EU countries. This will no longer be the case. The "right to control our borders" will see new border controls. EU workers in the UK may remain. In the short-term, there may a surge in inward migration while the current rules still apply. In future, their compatriots will find it more difficult to work in the UK.

Britain could scrap the Working Time Directive. This means the right to the statutory paid holiday leave could go. The maximum 48 hour week would go. It will mean a return to freedom of contract for employers to agree the holiday (and rest breaks) they want. It will be a return to the pre-1998 position.

The Agency Workers Directive is likely to go. The UK Government has always opposed this EU Directive. We do not now need to have it. This will mean no parity of pay for agency workers with substantive employees after 12 weeks. The UK could repeal "TUPE" the Transfer of Undertakings Regulations 2006 which guarantee employment rights when businesses are bought and sold.

The Equality Agenda. The Equality Act 2010 is highly unlikely to be repealed and most anti-discrimination law will stay. It has never been the position of any of the Brexiteers to make it lawful to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age disability etc. Two rights that could change are: a cap on damages for discrimination claims and the right to continue to accrue holiday pay during maternity leave. There are unlikely to be whole-scale changes but there will be some important changes.

Overall: There will be fewer top-down regulations and the primacy of freedom of contract will be re-established. In a post industrialised, post EU world, it will be the biggest shake-up of employment rights for over 50 years.

In short, the UK will now be entirely free to set the immigration and employment laws it wants.

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