Employment law has taken centre stage in the fight to leave or remain in the European Union. Yesterday Jeremy Corbyn warned that a Conservative government would take the opportunity of Brexit to slash protection for workers, in a "bonfire of rights".
But is a "bonfire of rights" a realistic possibility in the event of Brexit? It might be said that such a bonfire has already been warming Conservative central office with, for example, a rise in the minimum service requirement and compensation reductions for unfair dismissal and an Employment Tribunal fees regime which has resulted in a reduction in the number of claims by about three-quarters. On the other hand, the current big employment issues such as the living wage, gender pay gap reporting and the apprenticeship levy are all policies designed by the Conservative government with little or no influence from Europe.
Those rights that have been introduced or strengthened by the European Union including discrimination rights, would be politically difficult to repeal. A repeal of TUPE rights might also be unpopular with employees and companies as it would potentially result in redundancy costs on an outsourcing, retender or business transfer.
Most vulnerable are probably the Working Time Regulations, in particular the 48 hour cap on the maximum average working week. But that is subject to exceptions and out-outs in any event so that any repeal would probably be more symbolic than significant. Other areas which could change under a Conservative deregulating government might include the regulation of agency workers and limits on compensation for discrimination.
Brexit certainly opens up possibilities to change employment rights. To what extent any future Conservative government would rise to that temptation is a matter of conjecture and it may be many years before we find out for certain. As Zhou Enlai is reported to have said in response to a question on the historic impact of the French Revolution: "it's too early to tell."