We are, of course, coming increasingly close to 23 June – the date of the referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the European Union. Several employers have already made their views known on “Brexit” (as it seems now to be labelled) in national newspapers. Just last week the Chief Executive of Airbus took the unusual step of writing to the company’s 15,000 UK employees expressing his view that leaving the EU would impact on international investment in the UK and put jobs at risk.
The TUC published its assessment of the potential impact of a “Brexit” on employment law in the UK (prepared by Michael Ford QC). Unsurprisingly, the TUC appears to be opposed to the UK’s exit from the EU because of the potential (perhaps likely) dilution of employment rights in the UK. It considers that the areas most likely to be subject to change in the future are the laws relating to: collective consultation; working time; TUPE; the Agency Workers Regulations; and some elements of discrimination legislation, particularly uncapped compensation and age discrimination. Michael Ford QC also points out that the protection of pregnant workers in the UK is derived from EU law.
These are some of the areas that place the greatest burdens on employers in terms of dealing with their workforce and so some dilution (or removal) of these rights may come as welcome news to some employers. However, these protections are seen by many as important and fundamental employment safeguards. If there were no obligations to collectively consult then the 15,000 individuals employed by Tata Steel in the UK might be left without jobs on the closure of its sites with very little notice and limited compensation to reflect that. If there were no protection under TUPE, at least some of them would be likely to lose their jobs even if a buyer was found. A recent survey carried out by the BBC found that 31 % of employees in the UK feel that they have been discriminated against at work on the grounds of their age (be they young or old), and as many of 77 % of women reported negative experiences at work related to their pregnancy or maternity according to research released by BIS and the EHRC last month.