Since this Bill has been introduced there has been much talk of an upcoming bonfire of legislation, of workers’ rights being stripped away and protections vanishing. So, is this the case? What is the purpose of this Bill?
The Bill, also referred to as the Brexit Freedom Bill, will automatically repeal any piece of retained EU law in the UK unless specific legislation is put in place to keep it. This will take place under a “sunset clause” on 31 December 2023. There is power to extend this date to 23 June 2026.
The intention is to review EU legislation with three resulting options – the piece of legislation can be revoked, it can be replaced by a new UK version of the legislation, or it could be restated. Restatement simply turns the EU law into a UK law. This does not need to be a verbatim restatement and there is a limited power for wording to be changed to clarify the legislation although it is not clear how much could be changed.
Changes to the EU legislation can be made by statutory instrument. This has caused some concerns as statutory instruments are unlike Acts of Parliament and receive much less scrutiny. A common view is that such major legislative change should be done by Parliament as opposed to Ministers.
The sheer scale of this review can be exemplified by the fact that there are 570 laws in relation to the environment and 437 are yet to be reviewed.
Readers will be aware that the EU has had a huge impact on domestic employment law over the years. The Bill could see significant changes to the Working Time Regulations, the Agency Workers Regulations, the Part-time Workers Regulations, the Fixed-term Employees Regulations and certain aspects of TUPE.
Another key issue of concern with this Bill is that all EU case law will cease to be binding in UK courts. Meaning, even if an EU law is restated in the exact same terms the words the law contains may not have the same meaning as they once did. This is because the cases that built on and clarified these laws are no longer applicable.
Another thing to consider is the impact these changes may have on the Brexit trading deal. The UK may be subject to sanctions and tariffs if workers’ rights are reduced.
There is a long way to go with this Bill as it has only just had its second reading in the House of Commons. Currently, a general election is not scheduled to take place until January 2025 at the latest and it is uncertain if the government will rush things through before then or delay them until after the election takes place. If major changes are to take place in UK employment law, employers would want a lot more clarity as to what those changes will be than what we currently know.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.