During the debates running up to the referendum, many on the Remain side argued that European Union (EU) membership protected employment rights, and although anti-EU campaigners had for many years highlighted EU-derived employment rights as intrusive and unnecessary interference in the British economy, such arguments were relatively muted in the debates prior to the vote to leave.
"The question becomes largely a political one and depends on whether the government is willing – or able – to revise all of these separate areas of the law."
There is little detail on what changes are likely to be made as Britain leaves the European Union (hence ‘Brexit means Brexit’) so any answer to this question is inherently speculative. European-derived legislation and regulation informs much of British employment law, and unravelling perceived EU influence from existing British law would be an immense bureaucratic task.
Employment rights and regulations relating to, inter alia, working time; equal pay; the treatment of fixed-term and part-time workers; maternity and paternity leave; the rights of workers to be informed and consulted over company restructuring; and protection of terms and conditions of employment during changes in ownership, are all underpinned by EU regulations, directives and Court of Justice of the European Union rulings.
Since 2010, the government have significantly weakened employment rights and their enforcement in Britain"
While these areas of employment law have a constrained effect in Britain, as with the 48-hour week in the Working Time Directive – which can be opted out of relatively easily by employers – they are a highly significant part of the overall system of employment regulation in Britain, providing substantial rights that could be enforced through European courts.
The question becomes largely a political one and depends on whether the government is willing – or able – to revise all of these separate areas of the law. Employment rights in Britain are notably weaker than in many European countries already. The argument that the EU guarantees employment rights in Britain would have been met with scepticism by many, given widespread lack of job security; the difficulty of enforcing rights; reforms under the Coalition government that restricted employment tribunal access by the introduction of fees; as well as the attack on trade unions in the Trade Union Act 2016.
Since 2010, the government have significantly weakened employment rights and their enforcement in Britain. Attacks on European influences on employment regulation could further undermine the already limited legal protections held by workers in Britain.