The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill: Don’t panic, yet
Posted on 16th January 2023 at 15:06
If you have even a passing acquaintance with the news, you’ve likely heard of the ‘bonfire of EU laws’. More formally known as the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, the bill means that by the end of 2023, EU law that is of direct application and domestic subordinate legislation made under the European Communities Act 1972 will no longer apply.
What employment laws could be affected?
This includes a great deal of legislation that affects employees and workers, and so the bill has the potential to significantly affect workers’ rights. Over 2,000 pieces of legislation fall under the scope of the bill, but some of the most prominent employment laws include:
Working Time Regulations
health and safety regulations
regulations about the treatment of part time, fixed term employees and agency workers
Headlines and discussion around the bill have made much of the potential impact, speculating on which rights and regulations will be lost. However, it is important to note that nothing is certain until ministers begin the process of deciding which regulations to restate, replace or remove, and what to replace them with.
Will workers’ rights be reduced?
It is too early to say. Workers' rights don’t only benefit workers happiness, but also their health and wellbeing. Reducing leave and increasing working hours would likely impact on workers performance, affecting business in the long run.
EU law is not entirely responsible for the UK’s culture of strong work rights. There are areas where UK law goes beyond the minimum set out in EU law, such as the minimum annual leave allowance, which is more generous in the UK than required by EU law. The Equal Pay Act 1970 gave the legal right to equal pay before we joined the EU. It is therefore quite possible that the government will choose to replace workers EU-based rights with similar alternatives or even improved rights.
Annual leave, for example, is usually included in contracts of employment. Contracts may be varied by agreement or by implied law – if regulations increased the minimum annual leave, this clause would be implied into all employment contracts. The impact of reduced annual leave would only be felt when entering into new employment contracts. An employer can’t unilaterally vary contacts without breaching them.
What happens if the government runs out of time?
Due to the great deal of legislation to work through, there is concern that the government may not have time to fully consider and act on all of the regulations by the end of the year. Anything not specifically replaced or retained would, by default, be repealed.
However, the ‘sunset’ provision in the Bill allows Ministers to delay its impact to a long-stop date of 23rd June 2026, giving an additional three years to work through the regulations.
This would provide more time to consider each set of regulations and allow robust debate and drafting of replacements. This would slow the pace of change and allow you longer to adjust your practices and policies, but it would also extend the period of uncertainty for employers and workers.
What do employers need to do?
For regulations that set out minimum provisions, such as the minimum allowances for annual leave or maternity leave, there is no need to rush. If limits are increased, this will overrule your policies automatically – most policies include a term acknowledging this, which will buy you some time to make considered updates.
If limits are decreased, you can continue offering the allowances you currently offer so long as they work for your business and employees. Going beyond the minimum will enhance your reputation as an employer and, in a competitive job market, can help to attract and retain staff.
However, many regulations are not this simple. Slight changes in the wording could change what is required and render your policies outdated. It is impossible to predict what changes we could expect – especially as more minor changes that may not garner headlines. Unfortunately, all you can do is keep up to date on changes and seek legal advice as and when new rules are implemented. We can review your contracts and policies in light of new laws to ensure they are compliant. Changes are unlikely to be instantaneous, so you should have some time to implement each provision. Once the government begins the process of restating or replacing laws, we should get a feel for the pace of change.
In the press
The organisation Pregnant then Screwed have warned about the potential impact on working women. People Management Magazine asked Ian whether he agreed that the impact could be 'a disaster'.
Ian agreed "it is sensible for interested parties to make their views known about particular laws they believe to be of benefit. The government may well consider the political impact when choosing which regulations to keep and which to prioritise."
Share this post: