Will the UK match the EU on workers’ rights?

15 April 2021

The UK is already at “real risk” of falling behind its European counterparts on the question of workers’ rights, the TUC has claimed as it challenged the UK Government to keep pace with developments in the EU.

According to General Secretary Frances O’Grady, the EU has various initiatives in the pipeline which will benefit workers once they become law in Member States but the UK has no similar legislation under preparation.

The TUC highlights two directives which were adopted before the UK left the EU and which the Government did not implement in UK law.

These are: the Work-life Balance Directive, which gives fathers the right to day one paid paternity leave and gives all workers the right to request flexible work; and the Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive which gives workers compensation for cancelled shifts, predictability of hours for zero hours contracts and a right to free mandatory training.

In 2019, the Government promised that it would bring forward a new Employment Bill to improve people’s rights at work. However, the TUC points out, there has been no sign of the legislation since it was first announced in the Queen’s Speech over a year ago.

Ms O’Grady said: “Again and again, Boris Johnson promised that his Government would protect and enhance workers’ rights. It’s high time the Prime Minister lived up to his word. As a bare minimum, the Government must keep the pace with the EU on rights.”

Under consideration in Europe

If Westminster is to keep pace with Brussels, then Ministers will need to look at the following proposals currently being considered by the European Commission:

  • improved working conditions for platform workers by giving them rights enjoyed by employees

  • a right to disconnect, which would grant workers the right to digitally disconnect from work without facing negative repercussions

  • mandatory corporate due diligence, which would ensure the rights of workers along the supply chain are respected and hold employers liable for these.

Comment by Paul Holcroft, Managing Director at Croner

The UK leaving the EU has meant that the laws compulsory to EU Member States no longer apply to the UK — the UK Government now reserves the right to observe the EU without being bound to its laws.

This, therefore, means that, where employment law is concerned, employers need not make provisions for the implementation of new worker rights in line with EU law; however, it may be a good idea to prepare for the possibility of such new laws in future.