From the TUC

Lawyers confirm #Brexit would put your rights at work at risk

03 May 2016, by in Working Life

Today GQ Employment Law LLP has issued a report endorsing TUC concerns that Brexit could endanger rights at work. The ’boutique’ law firm suggests that weekly working time limits could well be under threat, along with overtime pay, and requirements to consult before mass redundancies would also be at risk. Protections for agency workers and reduced damages in discrimination cases are also identified as areas which could be affected.

Nevertheless, repeating an earlier report, they say that “dramatic change in the area through a Brexit is highly unlikely,” because additional change would be prevented by political circumstance or whatever deal is done with the EU post-Brexit. That’s not much comfort, for three reasons:

  • the main reason the Coalition and Conservative Governments have not taken an axe to our employment rights is precisely because EU membership prevents them from doing so – after Brexit, there would be nothing to stop them;
  • GQ Employment Law’s suggestion that a post-Brexit UK would negotiate a Norwegian or Swiss-style arrangement with the EU runs completely counter to what the Leave campaign has been demanding, precisely because such arrangements would tie their hands in pretty much the same way as EU membership; and
  • the overly optimistic assumption that no Government would seek to take away employment rights because it would be electorally unpopular ignores the way the last two Governments have tried to do precisely that to vulnerable groups like disabled people and the young, and their track record in scrapping protections like the Agricultural Wages Board, protections for workers whose jobs have been outsourced, and making it more difficult to enforce existing employment rights by raising the cost of Employment Tribunal cases.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady commented:

“A lot of the debate has focussed on how many people might lose their job because of Brexit. But even people whose jobs are not a risk would still face the threat of losing hard-won rights at work. GQ Employment have optimistically assumed that the UK would negotiate a similar Brexit deal to Norway. But even on this basis, they think that some important employment rights will still be at risk. Nobody knows for certain how bad it could get. But all the employment law experts agree that it will be worse for workers’ rights.”

Michael Ford QC, who provided a legal opinion for the TUC on the risks of Brexit for rights at work last month, added:

“Existing policy documents published by the Government indicate that a much wider range of social rights in employment are potentially under threat. And post-Brexit, a Conservative government is likely to move to the right, and be made up of strong supporters of deregulation of the labour market. These ideas are also being proposed by pro-Brexit campaigners and pro-deregulation think tanks, such as the group Economists for Brexit, who argue that that gender equality and working time rules are a regulatory burden on business.”

The changes GQ Employment Law think are likely would be bad enough. And if their optimistic assumptions turn out to be wrong, the situation facing working people post-Brexit would be even worse. That’s why the TUC is saying that when it comes to the EU referendum on 23 June, our advice is: “don’t risk it!”

One Response to Lawyers confirm #Brexit would put your rights at work at risk

  1. Daniel Sarath
    May 3rd 2016, 11:48 am

    Great article, Owen. I wrote a little about the same topic for our law firm’s blog at The conclusion I came to was that it would be unlikely to assume that a government would not reintroduce the same employment laws. It would cause an outcry from every employee (and probably every employer who has to change their practices). However, as you pointed out, the government has already tried to strip money from disabled people and have enraged almost everyone in the NHS, so who is to assume they would do the right thing on this issue?