Barry Turner: Employment rights and the vote to leave the EU

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Barry Turner is Senior Lecturer in Media Law and Public Administration at the University of Lincoln.

The university sector is only likely to see a number of consequences involving workers’ rights following our final departure from the EU after the referendum result.

Many of the UK employment rights are enshrined in UK law with many of them predating EU Social Chapter legislation.

The only likely significant change will be felt by those working under agency contracts.

The EU Temporary Agency Workers Directive requires employers to offer equal terms and benefits to agency workers once they’ve been working for 12 weeks. It is very likely that these will be repealed because of their unpopularity with business groups and because few agency workers are unionised.

The trade unions have not offered support for agency workers so they have no members’ interests to protect.

The maximum average working week of 48 hours is also likely to be abolished also because this is unpopular with employers and surprisingly many employees.

This provision is known to have been widely ignored in UK employment markets and it is certainly the case that academic staff are at certain times of the year by necessity working in excess of 48 hours.

Laws protecting employees against sex, race and disability discrimination were in place before the UK was required to implement EU law in these areas. It is unlikely that any post-Cameron government would risk attempts to repeal these.

The only area in which discrimination law might change is on capping of compensation awards where discrimination is an issue.

Unfair dismissal awards are capped and there has been a call to cap discrimination claims. This was prevented by our membership of the EU but might be a risk once we are fully out.

Paid holidays are not at risk but there may be changes in areas such as accruing holidays during long term sick leave and the payment of commissions during holiday time.

The UK currently provides for longer holidays that are required by EU rules so it would be unlikely that we would see paid holidays disappear.

Any and all changes to EU regulations and law will only be implemented after our final departure. Until them we will continue to be bound by all such laws.

In the long term, dependent on far too many variables to consider here there may be a contraction in the sector.

This brings up the possibility of redundancies in the medium to long term. The redundancy collective consultation laws stem from a EU Directive.

These too have been seen as burdensome by employers so there is likely to be pressure to repeal this.

In reality the next few years are going to see an enormous amount of legislative reform as new trade and working practices with EU and non EU states are constructed.

There are likely to be more pressing reforms required than this one.

Finally on the subject of immigration. The free movement rules will continue to operate until we are out of the EU.

Free movement of academic staff is of immeasurable importance since not only is it essential that universities can recruit from as far and wide as possible but that our academics and graduates can work in other countries.

It is once again very likely that if the EU survives in its present form without the UK that the UK will have to accept these as a condition of our access to the single market.

The main threat to the ability of universities to recruit from EU countries and for UK academics to work in EU countries is a further disintegration of the EU by other states seceding.

Employees in all sectors now face very significant changes to practices that have seemed immovable for decades.

This is without doubt a period of great uncertainty and in order that the crisis is not deepened will require cooperation between employers, unions and staff.