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What does Brexit mean for the UK workplace?

The vote for the UK to leave the EU could have a profound effect on the country’s employment rights.

Last week Britain voted to leave the European Union. What does this mean for the UK workplace in terms of rights and costs?

In short, there can now be a fundamental change in both immigration and employment rights. The UK can seize control of its own employment rights. Some mandatory overheads (imposed by EU directives) will go. In due course, the UK will not need to abide by any EU directives.

What is likely to happen in practice?


In the long run, this will be the big change. When the UK formally leaves the EU (two years after Article 50 is triggered, or less) it will now longer be bound by the EU right to freedom of movement.

The following rule (set out in the Treaty of Rome and ratified by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009) will no longer apply: “Every worker in the European Union shall have the right to freedom of movement throughout the territory of the community, subject to restrictions justified on grounds of public order, public safety or public health.”

“In the UK, it has been effectively ‘cost-free’ to recruit workers from the other 27 EU countries. This will no longer be the case”

Britain is likely to introduce an Australian-style points system. This will apply to all non-UK workers – not just all non-EU workers (as is effectively the case at present).

It will be an end to the pro-EU bias in the UK workplace. In the UK, it has been effectively ‘cost-free’ to recruit workers from the other 27 EU countries. This will no longer be the case.

The ‘right to control our borders’ may well impose new costs on businesses – effectively the tier two visa costs applicable to skilled non-EU workers, at present.

Working Time Directive

Britain could scrap the Working Time Directive, which means the right to statutory paid holiday leave could go. The maximum 48-hour week would also go.

It will mean a return to freedom of contract for employers to agree the holiday (and rest breaks) they want and a return to the pre-1998 position.

Agency Workers Directive

The Agency Workers Directive is likely to be axed. This was always an unpopular law in the recruitment and construction sectors.

“Freed from EU directives, the UK can now pick and choose which equality laws it wants”

UK governments have always opposed this EU directive, with both Conservative and Labour having long voiced their disquiet.

Now, we do not need to have it, which will mean no parity of pay for agency workers with substantive employees after 12 weeks.

The equality agenda

The Equality Act 2010 is highly unlikely to be repealed and most anti-discrimination law will stay.

It has never been the position of any of the Brexiteers to make it lawful to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age disability etc. However, freed from EU directives, the UK can now pick and choose which equality laws it wants.

Two rights that could change are the cap on damages for discrimination claims, and the right to continue to accrue holiday pay during maternity leave.

There are unlikely to be wholesale changes, but there will be some important shifts. In short, the UK will now be entirely free to set the immigration and employment laws it wants.

This begs the question for the reader: given carte blanche, what employment rights do you want and which should go?

John Hayes is an employment lawyer at Constantine Law

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