EU referendum: the workers' rights at stake if Britain leaves the EU

Many of the rights we take for granted at work are the result of the UK’s membership of the EU

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The Independent Online

UK workers’ employment rights are at stake if Britain votes to leave the EU.

Maternity leave and sick pay have been absent in a referendum debate that has centred on welfare payments for migrants, child benefits for those living overseas and protection for the City of London, as demonstrated in the Statista chart below.

These have become the basis of the deal agreed by David Cameron in Brussels, ready for the British people to vote on June 23.

But many of the rights we take for granted at work are the result of the UK’s membership of the EU, from holiday pay to the right to work free from discrimination.

Many of these rules were introduced in the form of directives at EU level and were implemented in the UK with new laws.


That means they cannot be overturned without changes to primary legislation, which requires parliamentary approval.

“Sweeping reforms seem unlikely to be politically attractive given that UK voters have come to expect a certain level of workplace protection,” Kathleen Morrison, professional support lawyer at Brodies LLP, told the Independent.

She said it is more likely that exit from the EU will lead to “occasional tinkering around the edges” for certain rights.

Unlikely to change

Maternity pay: UK maternity rights already far exceed the EU’s minimum requirements, providing 52 weeks’ maternity leave as opposed to the EU minimum of 14 weeks, so any reduction seems doubtful.

Holiday pay: Basic holiday provision is also unlikely to be a target for significant reform, given that the UK again exceeds the EU minimum providing 5.6 weeks’ holiday as opposed the EU minimum of four weeks.

Discrimination: The EU outlaws discrimination based on sex, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, disability, age, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.  It also requires equal pay for men and women. Any change to these rules would be extremely unpopular in the UK.

At risk

Holiday entitlement for those off sick: the Government would be free to make changes to the right of workers on sick or maternity leave to carry their unused holiday entitlement to another year.

Commission and overtime: A future government might also seek to exclude payments such as commission and overtime from holiday pay, contrary to recent changes at EU level.

Transfer of undertakings: TUPE rules protecting staff terms and conditions when jobs are transferred or outsourced could be at risk, according to Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC.

Redundancies: O’Grady also said Brexit jeopardises EU laws that oblige firms to inform and consult workers when they plan redundancies.