Brexit: Why we’re unlikely to lose rights as workers
A significant proportion of our employment laws derive from EU law, which means that Friday’s referendum result could have a significant impact on local companies, although thankfully not in the immediate to short term.
From the right to a minimum period of paid holiday, discrimination and equality laws, consultations on redundancy, to agency worker terms, paternity and maternity laws, it would be fair to say that employees have benefited from the additional protections that being within the EU has provided.
Although these laws derive from EU law, they are implemented through domestic legislation, so it will be reassuring for many companies which are concerned about our departure from the EU to hear that swathes of employment law will not automatically now cease to exist.
As employment law is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, the task now falls to our politicians to consider each piece of legislation.
They will decide which laws we keep, which we will erase and which we will amend.
If we turn to recent experience as an indication of how this process could go, the Northern Ireland Assembly has proved to be more protectionist about employment rights than its Great Britain counterpart, so we may well see a further divergence of our employment laws from the position in GB.
Many of the EU-derived employment laws are now firmly entrenched in our working culture; for instance, our right to paid holiday, maternity leave and pay and our redundancy rights. It is difficult to imagine that our politicians would want to remove those rights.
Other EU-derived employment laws are more controversial. Recent judgments on the calculation of holiday pay, for instance, or the much-maligned agency workers’ regulations would appear to be more obvious targets for repeal or amendment, certainly by a GB Tory government.
However, if the UK wants to obtain a free trade agreement with the EU post-Brexit, the remaining EU members might demand adherence to most EU employment laws anyway. That is, broadly speaking, what currently happens with Norway, for example.
Of course, all of the above ignores the great elephant in the room.
What happens to the EU nationals already living in Northern Ireland and employed in local businesses?
They have the right to work here currently by virtue of their country’s EU membership. Will they lose that right on Brexit?
Will the UK grant an immigration amnesty to them, so that they can stay here indefinitely?
Will they be required to apply for the right to remain?
The long and the short at this stage is that we simply do not know what the full implications are for employment law.
All we know is that we are entering uncertain territory and have just over two years to work out what it will mean for the long term.