What does the Repeal Bill mean for worker rights?

The Repeal Bill, formally titled the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, has now been published. This is the most important preliminary pieces of legislation that is created to repeal the European Communities Act and take the UK out of the European Union (EU).

Formally known as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the draft legislation is a key plank of the government’s Brexit strategy.

It gives the UK two years after Brexit to correct any “deficiencies” arising from the transfer.

Brexit secretary David Davis said he would ‘work with anyone’ to make it a success, but he faces opposition from both the Liberal Democrat Leader and Labour’s Brexit secretary.

Davis wants to guarantee workers rights in the UK do not fall outside of those in the EU. In a statement, he said:

The UK has a long-standing record of ensuring that workers’ rights are protected. This includes employment and equality rights and protections for health and safety at work. The decision to leave the European Union does not change this. This Government has made a firm commitment to protect workers’ rights, and to maintain protections covered in the Equality Acts.

The Repeal Bill will ensure that the workers’ rights that are enjoyed under EU law will continue to be available in UK law after we have left the EU. This includes rights derived from EU law, such as the Working Time Directive and the Agency Workers’ Directive. This will give certainty and continuity to employees and employers alike, creating stability in which the UK can grow and thrive.

In a number of areas, UK employment law already goes further than the minimum standards set out in EU legislation, and the report promises a  commitment to protect and enhance the rights people have at work as we leave the EU.

The report will also cover employment, health at safety at work and equalities.

The repeal bill is not expected to be debated by MPs until the Autumn, but will need to have been passed by the time the UK leaves the EU – which is due to happen in March 2019.

Employment Law Director Alan Price commented:

The government is insisting the bill is providing “maximum certainty, continuity and control”. The initial form of the legislation confirms domestic legislation or rights derived from the EU and direct EU legislation that is in force in the UK before the day of exit will be brought in to UK domestic law and continue to have effect after the exit. This means worker rights from the EU, for example TUPE, working time and agency worker rights, will continue to have effect from the date of exit and for the foreseeable future.

This continuation of employment law and worker rights, however, does not commit the government to keep these the same forever. The current Conservative minority government used the Queen’s Speech to reiterate their intention to enhance rights and protections at work but this does not prevent the amendment of legislation in the future. The Bill also confirms any future EU laws will not take effect after the exit; a provision the Labour Party is opposed to as this could result in UK worker rights falling behind those in the EU.

EU case law will be retained and workers can continue to rely on judgments of the European Court of Justice that have been decided before the date of exit. Interestingly, the bill sets out that the Supreme Court will not be bound by this case law and can depart from these decisions where it appears right to do so. Although this is a difficult test to prove, in theory, it allows European decisions such as commission and holiday pay to be brought through the domestic court system again where, upon reaching the Supreme Court, the outcome could potentially be different.

Rachel Farr, senior lawyer in the Employment, Pensions & Mobility group at international law firm Taylor Wessing, added:

“The Bill makes it clear that EU-derived UK legislation, such as TUPE 2006, will continue to apply after the exit day, whilst EU Regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation will also remain in effect in the UK. This confirms that companies and their HR teams should continue to think about how they will be handling employee data in compliance with the new rules.”

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