The government published its Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill in the House of Commons on 22 September 2022. Richard Arthur, head of trade union law at Thompsons Solicitors, takes a look at how this will impact workers, employers and trade unions.
“According to the EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, all EU-derived subordinate legislation and retained directly applicable EU legislation is to be revoked automatically from the end of 2023. The only exceptions are for areas to be specified in Regulations to be made by a Minister or devolved administration.
“So, what provision are Ministers going to make to preserve EU-derived subordinate legislation? Workers and their trade unions certainly need to know, and so do employers. What rules are going to apply after 31 December 2023?
“Government has announced the Bill immediately before the Chancellor’s hugely controversial and divisive mini-budget, and so as to be on the table before the Tory party conference next week.
“Nobody is going to take kindly to having their rights under legislation to paid annual leave, health and safety, or parental leave or protection for atypical workers (such as agency workers and part-time workers) taken away in 15 months’ time without knowing what their rights are going to be after that (if any). And the same goes for businesses – they need to know what employees’ rights are going to be, and what provision they will be required to make for them.
“Take the example of TUPE, which provides protections, and consultation obligations, where there is a transfer of an undertaking. Many employers favour the existence of TUPE – and even their extension to ‘service provision changes under domestic law – because it provides certainty. Employers, trade unions and employees have a degree of confidence as to where they stand. That is particularly important in areas such as outsourcing and public procurement where the application of TUPE is so important. By revoking regulations like TUPE, without any indication of, what, if anything they are going to be replaced with, government is recklessly introducing a gaping hole of uncertainty- not just for workers and trade unions, but also for businesses.
“It’s not just the revocation of EU-derived regulations which will undermine rights and lead to uncertainty. Directly applicable EU legislation includes the right to equal pay for equal work. Although the same overall principle is recognised under the Equality Act and its predecessors, the UK legislation has often had to be interpreted subject to that directly EU legislation, or by using ‘general principles’ of EU law. The disapplication of that directly effective EU legislation, and of the ‘general principles’ used to interpret related UK law, is likely to lead to a weakening of the protection for equal work of equal value. But it is also bad for employers because of the considerable uncertainty as to how the Equality Act, which (along with its predecessors) has been interpreted subject to directly applicable UK legislation for the past 50 years, will be interpreted in the future. It’s no easy task to untangle the EU strands from the UK strands. Equal pay for work of equal value is just one example.
“And then there are the UK’s obligations under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. In the interests of fair competition, the UK and the EU committed to upholding their ‘respective high levels of protection in the areas of labour and standards’. In addition, the non-regression obligation in Article 387 prohibits any weakening or reduction of the UK’s (or the EU’s) labour and social levels of protection, including through modifications to underlying legislation, ‘in a manner affecting trade or investment’.
“The UK government simply revoking all EU-derived subordinate legislation, and directly effective EU legislation, must give rise to concern on the part of the EU as to weakening of labour standards in a manner affecting trade and investment. That gives rise to the prospect of the EU considering launching the dispute resolution process, or ‘appropriate re-balancing measures’. And the initiation of either process means more uncertainty for businesses.”