On 22 September 2022, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022-2023 was introduced to the House of Commons, and if passed could give rise to the most significant shake up of employment rights since Brexit.
In summary, the Bill acts to automatically repeal all retained EU law, and remove the principle of the supremacy of EU law, on 31 December 2023 (with the power to extend the revocation date to 23 June 2026) unless specific legislation is introduced to retain it.
What this means for UK employment law is unclear at the moment, but as employment rights relating to the transfer of undertakings (TUPE), annual leave and working time, discrimination and equal pay, and agency, part time and fixed term workers are derived from the EU, the potential for changes in these areas looms large.
We can only speculate at this stage, but there does not seem to be any current indication or suggestion of a radical overhaul of UK employment laws that have their origin in the EU. The UK has a strong track record of high employment standards, on occasion ‘gold-plating’ the minimum criteria required of it by the EU, and although the promised strengthening of rights through the Employment Bill are yet to materialise, the current political landscape is not conducive to a government looking to significantly reduce rights. In addition, trade unions and worker organisations would certainly be likely to vehemently challenge any proposed changes that are to the detriment of workers.
Also, at the time of Brexit, an agreement reached between the UK and EU incorporated level playing field commitments that aimed to prevent either the UK or the EU gaining a competitive advantage in a variety of contexts, including in respect of rights at work and working conditions. Although the agreement does not prohibit the UK making changes to employment laws and standards, the commitments were intended to ensure that neither the UK nor EU would weaken or reduce labour or social rights and standards below the levels in place at the end of the transition period, with changes only permitted insofar as they do not affect trade or investment between the parties.
Although we do not currently expect a wholesale repeal of EU derived employment rights, there are discreet elements of EU derived employment law that we could anticipate being revisited. Given the complications that have arisen as a consequence of discrepancies between the UK and EU law on working time, holiday and the calculation of holiday pay is perhaps a top contender for being amended. Whether this materialises, and the extent to which other EU derived employment laws are re-examined and changed, remains to be seen. We will continue to provide updates via the Employment Law Watch blog as more information comes available.