Unless you’ve done very well at hiding from the news, you will know that on 31 January 2020 the UK left the European Union.
We are now in a transition period until 31 December 2020 in accordance with the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.
What does this mean for workers’ rights?
Well, very little at this stage. Until 31 December 2020, EU law will continue to apply to the UK and as a result, the UK will not be able to legislate to reduce workers’ rights below EU standards during this time and will continue to be required to implement new decisions of the European Court of Justice.
However, before the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act was passed, provisions were removed which guaranteed protection beyond the transition period for workers’ rights which are derived from EU law. This suggests that there may be an intention on the Government’s part to deviate from EU law via new domestic legislation in the future.
The clauses that were removed would have done two things:
- a Government minister would have had to consult with businesses and unions about the impact of any proposed legislation on workers’ rights. They would then have had to formally state whether the proposed legislation would reduce workers’ rights to less than those under EU law.
- secondly, the Government would have been required to report on new workers’ rights adopted by the EU. These reports would have had to state whether UK law already recognised rights of the same kind and, if not, whether there were plans to implement similar rights.
So, to be clear, nothing has changed yet?
Correct. It’s also important to understand that:
- freedom of movement in the EU and the UK will continue to apply during the transition period
- in the new legislation, EU citizens in the UK gained explicit protections from discrimination at work on the grounds of nationality (although these protections already exist in UK law)
- data flows between the EU and UK will be allowed to continue as they currently do. The European Commission have agreed to work towards granting the UK an “adequacy status” under EU data protection legislation before the end of the transition period.
What about future changes?
Even after the transition period, many employment rights are likely to remain unchanged. However, the Government has announced that it there is a forthcoming employment law bill which has the potential to change UK employment law after the end of the transition period.
At the moment, the jury is out on what that bill will look like, but areas to watch include EU derived laws such as those relating to working time, collective redundancy consultation, TUPE and agency worker rights.