A No Deal Brexit: What it could mean for workers’ rights

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The Institute for Public Policy Research’s briefing paper was issued last month to explore different scenarios that could ensue from the future relationship with the UK and the EU and what impact those outcomes could have on protections of rights.

A key finding – that the UK could miss out on important developments in employment law and workers’ rights, if there is a No Deal Brexit – prompted Safety Management to get in touch with the report author, Marley Morris, to find out more.

Why did you write the report [A level playing field for workers – the future of employment rights post-Brexit]?

IPPR has a longstanding interest in supporting workers’ rights so for us, it was understanding the Brexit process and what the implications would be for workers’ rights and then considering what kind of mechanisms the future relationship with the UK and the EU would have on those protections of rights.

There’s been lots of debate in the press and in academia about the role of state provisions in free trade agreements, we wanted to explore this in a bit more depth and understand what the scenarios were and understand to what degree there might be a level playing field agreement that protects these rights.

Some say that the UK is such a leader in the field of health and safety and workers’ rights that nothing, not even a no deal Brexit, will change that. What’s your view?

I think it’s very unlikely the UK would seek to remove the employment protections, there’s strong political and public support for the protections – in the mainstream. However, there is, under a no deal scenario a few potential risks.

Firstly, the risk the interpretation of employment legislation diverging over time, because the UK has that robust link with the EU’s court, so there’s a potential weakening of that interpretation. Secondly, the risk of legislation diverging itself – ie, the EU might produce new legislation the UK wouldn’t necessarily follow suit.

In a 'no deal' scenario the UK would more or less have its own autonomy to decide its own legislation on workers' rights

Are there any examples of areas of law we might miss out on when we leave?

The EU is planning on introducing new legislation in the coming years as part of its social pillar including the new protections around carer and parents’ rights as well as further legislation for additional protections for casual workers and zero hours contracts, gig economy, etc.

If the UK were not to follow suit, there could be a growing divergence in those protections. Over time, in the long term it’s possible a new government might come in and choose to remove protections in order to gain a competitive advantage over the EU by reducing labour costs. There’s always that possibility and risk which would be apparent under a no deal.

The International Labour Organisation is the UN agency responsible for improving global labour standards. Many countries, including the UK, are a member. When it comes to no deal would our membership provide any protection?

In a no deal scenario the UK would more or less have its own autonomy to decide its own legislation, in principle it’s still part of the ILO and signed up to many conventions but as the report highlights, the UK doesn’t take those particularly seriously within its legal system. Also, you can pull out of those conventions without difficulty so it doesn’t provide a huge level of protection.

Won’t the UK just keep upholding EU laws that it helped to create and which are embedded (or will be transposed) into its framework when we leave?

UK has a good record in some areas, but it’s clear in a number of areas of employment protection the EU has played a role in safeguarding protections over recent years. The evidence we collected did suggest there have been a number of examples where the UK has wanted to change the law or has been required to change the law because of certain EU legislation.

Look at equal pay for equal work, that was strengthened through EU law, often rights have been strengthened through relationship between UK and EU law, particularly when governments have been tempted to remove or been less interested in introducing new protections – there are well known examples where the UK has wanted to opt out of particular worker protections, like the working time directive.

IPPR report: A level playing field for workers here 



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