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What will happen to Workers’ Rights after January 31st 2020 Brexit date?

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Updated: 15th January 2020

The issue of workers’ rights after we leave the EU has always been a key topic during Brexit negotiations, with European leaders keen to maintain a so-called ‘level playing field’ to avoid the potential for economic competition.

Theresa May’s deal included provisions to retain the current framework that protects workers’ rights in the UK, but changes were made to the agreement when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.

Workers’ rights don’t now form part of the Withdrawal Agreement that is bound in law – they’ve been moved to the Political Declaration, which isn’t legally binding. So what exactly is the level playing field, and what will happen with regard to the rights of UK workers after January 31st 2020?

What is the EU’s ‘level playing field?’

The European Union operates using the premise of a level playing field to ensure fair competition amongst its members. In relation to workers’ rights, if businesses in one member state were allowed to lower their standards, that country could gain a competitive advantage over others in the EU - via reduced operating costs, for example.

The EU is concerned that if the UK moves too far from the level playing field premise, member states could be placed at an economic disadvantage.

What issues are covered under workers’ rights?

Workers’ rights issues include, but aren’t limited to:

  • The Working Time Directive, which places a limit on the number of hours employees can legally work
  • Equal pay for workers carrying out the same job
  • The right to rest breaks and time off work
  • The right to sick pay for eligible workers
  • Parental rights, including maternity, paternity, and adoption
  • Flexible working

Essentially, the EU regulations on workers’ rights provide a minimum level that must be met by all member states, but there’s concern that the UK may lower standards once our membership ends.

What could happen to workers’ rights after Brexit?

  • Although the government has pledged not to lower standards with regard to workers’ rights, because the issue isn’t part of the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement a different model could be adopted in reality, such as that used in the United States
  • The government has stated its intention to address workers’ rights within separate legislation, but there’s no specific timetable for this to take place as yet
  • The Prime Minister has suggested that if the EU changes any regulations that affect workers’ rights, parliament would have the opportunity to vote on whether to adopt the change into UK law

When will the issue be resolved?

The government will begin the next phase of negotiations on the long-term future relationship with the EU during a transition period of 12 months. A ‘summit’ is planned for June 2020 to assess the progress of negotiations, and presents the final opportunity for the government to request an extension to the transition period beyond the end of the year – potentially to December 31st 2022.

An agreed trade deal with Europe by December 31st 2020 is the priority on this agenda, however, so workers’ right may not be discussed until 2021 onwards given the general complexity of these talks.

For more information on workers’ rights after Brexit, and the implications for both workers and employers, call our team of experts at Real Business Rescue. We’re a major part of Begbies Traynor Group, the UK’s largest professional services consultancy, and can provide the professional guidance you need. We operate a network of offices throughout the country, and offer same-day consultations free-of-charge.

Jonathan Munnery

Partner

0800 644 6080
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