Last reviewed 7 January 2021

When the 11-month transition period ended on 31 December 2020, the UK finally completed its slow withdrawal from the European Union with, at the last possible moment, a trade deal setting out at least part of their future relationship.

With regard to employment, the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) states that neither side shall “weaken or reduce, in a manner affecting trade or investment between the Parties, its labour and social levels of protection below the levels in place at the end of the transition period”.

However, in its summary of the TCA available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/948093/TCA_SUMMARY_PDF.pdf, the Government refers to this section and casts some doubt on the extent to which it intends to remain tied to existing EU employment laws.

“The provisions are clear that both Parties have the freedom and ability to make their own decisions on how they regulate,” it states, “meaning that retained EU law will not have a special place on the UK’s statute books.”

Noting that EU rules will no longer apply in the UK from 1 January, Acas has said that in most cases this will not affect employment rights although there will be some changes with regard to membership of European Works Councils (see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/participating-in-a-european-works-council) and in the employment of EU citizens (see https://www.gov.uk/legal-right-work-uk).

The TUC has struck a more concerned note and warned that the deal’s “flimsy protections on workers’ rights” would fail to prevent the Government pursuing a deregulatory agenda.

It has called on Ministers to bring forward as a matter of urgency the long-awaited Employment Bill, ensuring that it includes a pledge to end zero-hours contracts.

In addition, the TUC argues, guarantees should be given that no existing rights will be watered down, now or in the future, and that workers’ rights in the UK will be at least as good as those in the EU.

“Ensure workers are not priced out of justice by guaranteeing there will be no re-introduction of employment tribunal fees,” it insists.

The Employment Bill was first announced in the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019, but no date has been set for a second reading.

Comment from BrightHR’s CEO Alan Price

The uncertainties surrounding employment law still remain despite a Brexit deal. If this new deal offers one thing though, it is likely the opportunity for employers to work closely with the Government to ensure that both their interests and the interests of their workforce are protected under any future employment laws.

However, the opportunities this will bring employers, and the impact of this Brexit deal on the workforce as a whole, are yet to be seen.