Parliament, trade unions and businesses will be given a new and enhanced role in shaping the future of workers’ rights after Brexit, if proposals put forward by Prime Minister Theresa May are adopted.

This follows the Government’s commitment in December 2018 to the largest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation.

It will not reduce the standards of workers’ rights from EU laws retained in UK law, Mrs May said, and will ensure that new legislation changing those laws will be assessed as to whether they uphold this commitment.

Parliament will be given the right through the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to consider any future changes in EU law that strengthen workers’ rights or workplace health and safety standards, and vote on whether they too should be adopted into UK law.

There will also be a new single enforcement body to protect vulnerable and agency workers.

The new process will start with two EU Directives that come into force after the UK has left the Union and following the expected transition period: the Work Life Balance Directive and the Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive.

The Government has voted in favour of both items of proposed legislation in the European Council and intends to ask Parliament if it wants to adopt them into UK law.

The Prime Minister said: “After Brexit it should be for Parliament to decide what rules are most appropriate, rather than automatically accepting EU changes. When it comes to workers’ rights this Parliament has set world-leading standards and will continue to do so in the future, taking its own decisions working closely with trade unions and businesses.”

See Protecting and Enhancing Worker Rights After the UK Withdrawal from the European Union, available at https://bit.ly/2VDZxon.

Thank you…but no

For the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), Director General Adam Marshall said: “Businesses will welcome moves to strengthen enforcement measures against the tiny minority of employers out there who wilfully violate the law of the land to undercut their competitors.”

Matthew Fell, the CBI’s Chief UK Policy Director, took a similar line, saying: “Businesses have been clear that they are not looking for a race to the bottom on standards. Critically, this new approach maintains a key role for parliament in assessing whether any future measures on workers’ rights are appropriate for the UK or not.”

However, the proposals, which will be put out to consultation, have already been dismissed by the TUC as flimsy and by some in the Labour Party as just a bribe to encourage its MPs to vote for Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “They come nowhere close to ensuring existing rights are protected. And they won’t stop workers’ rights in the UK from falling behind those in the rest of Europe. What’s more, there’s nothing to stop a future right-wing government tearing up this legislation altogether.”

Comment by Croner Associate Director Paul Holcroft

It is important to remember that it is still unclear if and how future EU provisions will be adapted into UK law following Brexit and there is currently no guarantee that these proposals will be adopted.

Despite this, employers should bear in mind that all existing EU provisions for worker rights will continue to apply for the time being and may only be subject to change at a later date.

Therefore, any breaches will still be subjected to the usual sanctions. It should also be noted that, if employers maintain operations in Europe, they will still need to adhere to future developments of EU law in these countries despite the UK’s stance on the issue.

Last reviewed 12 March 2019