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The Prime Minister’s offer on workers’ rights: workplace implications

  • United Kingdom
  • Employment law - HR E-Brief


Ahead of this week’s vote on the Prime Minister’s EU Withdrawal Bill, the government announced new proposals on workers’ rights after Brexit. Seen by some as an effort to court Labour MPs’ support for the Bill, the measures would provide Parliament with a vote on whether to adopt future EU legislation on employment rights and give trade unions and businesses a right to be consulted on any such new proposals.

Potential new EU legislation includes measures on work life balance as well as the provision of minimum rights for some on-demand, zero hour and other casual workers. However, the government’s announcement does not address future EU Court of Justice case law on the interpretation of new and existing EU employment rights. As such, there remains the prospect that UK and EU employment case law could diverge over time.


If Parliament backs the Withdrawal Bill and it is put into effect upon Brexit, a transition period would substantially preserve the status quo until 31 December 2020 at the earliest (there being an option to postpone this date by agreement). In summary terms, the Prime Minister has committed to the preservation of EU employment law until the transition period ends and to broadly keep pace on a “non-regression” basis with future EU employment law under the terms of any future trade deal. Trade unions and some Labour MPs have called for the government to go further, for example, to promise a more dynamic alignment with future EU law on a “regression lock” basis. 

If, however, the UK leaves the EU without the Withdrawal Bill being agreed, either on 29 March or on a later date if Brexit is delayed, all EU employment law that directly applies in the UK at that point would be retained, in accordance with legislation already enacted last year. The future direction for UK employment law would be uncertain given that there would be no formal agreement with the EU on “non-regression”. For further information on the implications of reaching a deal, or a no-deal situation, read our latest Brexit bulletin

A new offer on workers’ rights from the government

Given this background, the ongoing pressure on the government to strengthen its post-Brexit employment law promises and the prospect that such an offer may increase support for the Withdrawal Bill this week, the Prime Minister moved to amend the Bill to give Parliament a vote on the UK adopting new EU employment rights in the future. As part of this process, trade unions and businesses would be consulted. The move was criticised by trade unions and some Labour MPs, many of whom regard the offer as insufficient to gain their support. 


There are two draft EU employment Directives which could fall within such a parliamentary vote, if this proposal was to take effect. The draft Work Life Balance Directive proposes minimum requirements for employees relating to paternity leave, parental leave, carers’ leave and flexible working arrangements. Despite existing UK family leave and flexible working rights, these proposals could require some changes, for example, relating to some qualifying periods and providing for carers to take five days’ leave per year. The second draft Directive on Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions reflects some of the government’s proposals published recently in its Good Work Plan, for example, requiring employers to expand the categories of workers to be provided with a written statement upon commencing work and to increase the information in that statement. However, it goes further, for example, proposing a right to reasonable minimum advance notice of new work for some casual workers and to payment for shifts cancelled at late notice. 

Leading up to the government’s announcement, there had been media reports that trade unions would also be offered a consultation on the introduction of e-ballots in the context of industrial action – something which they support strongly. However, e-balloting was absent from the Prime Minister’s press release. 

Finally, there are no suggestions that the government is minded to change its position on the role of the EU Court of Justice after Brexit. After the UK leaves, UK courts may have regard to EU employment case law but will not be bound by it, meaning that UK and EU case law could diverge over time. By simply focusing on new EU employment legislation in its latest offer on workers’ rights, the government fails to address the role of the courts in enabling EU and UK employment rights to keep pace.

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