The revised Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which paves the way for the UK’s exit from the EU, contains some changes which may have an impact on future employment law. First, the Bill no longer contains clauses which were aimed at safeguarding existing EU-derived workers’ rights. Second, whilst the original Bill gave ECJ decisions the same status in law as a UK Supreme Court decision, the new Bill goes further by allowing ministers (by making regulations) to allow tribunals to override ECJ and domestic cases on EU derived rights. This could potentially affect the rules around holiday pay under the Working Time Regulations.
In the Queen’s Speech, delivered on 19 December 2019, it was announced that the Government is proposing to introduce a new Employment Bill which would cover:
- A single labour market enforcement agency – having a single agency would support business compliance, and would ensure workers are aware of, and can exercise, their rights. A consultation on these proposals closed in October 2019
- A right to request a more predictable contract – a right for all workers to request a more stable contract after 26 weeks’ service and “other reasonable protections”
- Making flexible working the default position – this proposal, which will be the subject of a consultation, would encourage flexible working and seek to make flexible working the default position unless employers have good reason to refuse
- Extended redundancy protection to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination – extending the period of redundancy protection from the time employees notify their employer of their pregnancy, until six months after the end of their maternity leave
- Extended leave for neonatal care – a new right to neonatal leave and pay to support parents of premature or sick babies. A consultation on these proposals closed in October 2019
- A week’s leave for unpaid carers – This proposal was made in the Conservative party’s election manifesto (see Legal update, General election 2019: Conservative Party employment law policies: Equality and diversity in the workforce)
- Tips in full for workers – all tips and service charges tips to be distributed on a fair and transparent basis, and passed to workers. This provision would be supported by a statutory Code of Practice
Other Government proposals include a national disability strategy with measures to encourage employers to employ disabled people and people with health conditions. Detailed proposals will be made later this year in light of feedback to its consultation “health is everyone’s business”, which closed in October 2019.
The changes made to the Withdrawal Bill do not necessarily mean that worker rights will be watered down post Brexit because if any future UK-EU trade deal contains a “”level playing field”” clause, the UK could effectively be prevented from watering down UK employment laws so that it does not gain a trade advantage.
It is not clear when the Employment Bill will be published – but since some of the proposals are still subject to consultation or a government response to consultation, it is unlikely to be imminent.