Employers and employees have good cause to be wondering what is in store for employment rights in the UK after the Government's introduction of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill into Parliament on 22 September 2022. Rights that have become embedded in HR practice and business dealings over a very long period, including rights on a business transfer, working time restrictions, the right to paid annual leave and rights for atypical workers, will, if the Bill is simply passed in its current form, disappear at a stroke at the end of 2023.
Changes to the law
Whilst the Bill has been less headline grabbing as a measure than the extensive tax cuts announced last week, it will have a potentially radical impact on the legal landscape in the UK, by removing from UK legislation many of the vestiges of European law that were 'retained' when the UK left the EU on 1 January 2021. This includes significant parts of the body of employment rights that has built up over the last 50 years. The Bill aims to revoke 'subordinate' legislation that was introduced through statutory instruments rather than Acts of Parliament, and hence could affect measures such as the Working Time Regulations, TUPE, and the regulations that protect fixed term employees, part time workers and agency workers. However it is also clear that there is scope for some of these measures to be retained for a longer period (to 23 June 2026) if the Government wishes, and that some measures may be replaced by UK versions conferring similar rights.
What laws will remain?
It is also important to remember what will not be affected at all. The right not to be unfairly dismissed, rights relating to redundancy (including information and consultation rights on collective redundancies) and all of the rights contained in the Equality Act will be untouched by these proposals. However the Bill does intend to undo the impact of European case law on the way UK law is interpreted. This will be a complex process, given that, to give just one example, the area of equal pay law has been profoundly affected by developments in European case law.
So whilst the Bill could be seen as the 'bonfire of rights' many have feared (and others may have hoped for), it is important to remember that only some employment protections are affected and some of those affected may not disappear completely. How exactly the proposed legislation actually changes the landscape depends on political questions, including the nature of the Government's underlying objectives (do they want to water down rights or simply take the European elements out of them?) It will also depend on the extent to which the proposals in the Bill are supported, amended or removed during its passage through Parliament.
There will also be external restraining factors such as the problems for trade with Europe that could emerge if the UK attempts to divert too strongly from European standards of regulation.
It is very much a matter of waiting and seeing what happens next – we will keep you up to date.
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