Today, we publish the latest in our Brexit briefing series – Standing at a Crossroad: Brexit and the future of workers’ rights. While the first briefing in the series looked at post-Brexit labour supply and workforce planning, this briefing explores what divergence from EU employment regulations could mean in practice for different worker groups, such as platform workers, agency workers, parents and carers, and those on casual or zero-hour contracts.
Informed by an extensive literature review and expert interviews with individuals spanning academia, trade unions and EU agencies, we identify key areas currently within scope for potential deviation below EU minimum standards, including working time regulations, agency worker regulations, caps on compensation claims for discrimination, and exemptions for small businesses. Most significantly, the worker groups who would be most affected by these deviations have been suffering insecurity, low pay and poor working conditions long before Brexit and the onset of Covid-19.
We also explore the possibility that the UK diverges below EU standards on some areas, but goes beyond EU requirements on others. Indeed, the UK has a history of going beyond the minimum EU standards in a variety of areas, including annual leave, paternity leave and pay, and flexible working. Rather than a linear trajectory in a single direction, the future landscape of workers’ rights and protections is therefore better framed as a set of complex decisions for policymakers, employers and workers to contend with over the coming years.
Accordingly, the findings of our research and interviews point towards a number of opportunities for policymakers to embrace. The EU is continuing with progressive new policies such as the right to disconnect, ensuring transparent and predictable working conditions, and improving conditions in the gig economy, and these are all areas that the UK should be looking to make progress in too. Post-Brexit, the UK should continue building on its history of going beyond EU minimum standards, introducing policies on a broad range of workers’ rights and protections including improving sick pay, enforcement of rights, and flexible working and other family friendly policies. Instead of pursuing a deregulatory agenda, government should prioritise strengthening rights and protections as part of a strong economic recovery that benefits all.
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