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Legal experts have begun assessing the possible impact of Brexit on UK employment law, most of which is based on legislation which originated in the European Parliament.
Employment law is a complex issue but solicitor Matthew Becker – a partner in Plymouth-based law firm Curtis Whiteford Crocker – says we shouldn’t expect sudden, seismic changes in legislation as the result of the referendum which voted to take us out of Europe.
“It would be ridiculous to suddenly change everything,” says Matthew. “On the whole, what we do will still mirror what goes on in Europe.”
Paraphrasing Monty Python and asking “what did the Europeans ever do for us?”, Matthew responds by explaining that most of the legislation surrounding employment issues in this country does flow from decisions made in Europe.
“A lot of the laws reflect decisions made in the European courts and parliament,” explains Matthew. “They are in two main areas – employment law and environmental issues. The European Parliament makes laws in the form of Articles and expects us to implement these laws and The European Court will tell us how to do that.”
Europe has been influential in a lot of the legislation surrounding employment today. Issues of discrimination in different forms, family leave rights, working time regulations, health and safety and the rights of employees on the transfer of a business.
“It’s about keeping the principles fair. Issues like discrimination, equal pay, maternity leave – they were all instigated in Europe. When we joined Europe in 1973, there was very little by way of employment law in this country,” says Matthew.
“I don’t think we will find ourselves going off at a different tangent, returning to the way things were in the ‘bad old days’ but we will have the flexibility to do as we like. I can’t see how we would do it differently, but we will have the ability to do that. I don’t think there will be a huge difference in the short or long term.
“It’s like the current issue with zero hours contracts,” adds Matthew. “There is nothing preventing them from existing in Europe but a Labour administration, for example, might want to move away from zero hours contracts. I don’t think it will go by the wayside, but we might see contracts guaranteeing a minimum number of hours.
“There’s also the recent issue of carers getting paid £30-40 for an overnight shift. Should they get the minimum wage even if they are asleep?
“Most of my work is on the other side, advising employers when they get their procedures wrong. Society changes all the time and the law needs to keep pace with the changes.”
Even outside of Europe, the UK will need to demonstrate that legislation covering issues like employment rights, discrimination and data protection makes this country a suitable trading partner for other European countries.
“Whatever happens, we don’t want to be in a situation where things are made worse,” says Matthew. “We will still want the principles of fairness.”
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