LEGAL EXPERT: Brexit will 'diminish' key employment rights for British workers

Michael SippittMichael SippittMichael Sippitt, chairman of London-based law firm Clarkslegal.

LONDON — Brexit threatens to diminish the rights of British workers unless the government creates new legislation to replace employment rights that will be destroyed by leaving the EU, a leading employment lawyer has warned.

Prime Minister Theresa May must prioritise replacing employment rights guaranteed for British workers by the European Union with a new set of protections or risk damaging the economy and key industries, according to Michael Sippitt, chairman of London-based law firm Clarkslegal.

Sippitt, who specialises in employment law, spoke to Business Insider this week about the Great Repeal Bill and what it could mean for the rights of millions of British workers.

Once passed, the Great Repeal Bill will transfer thousands of EU laws into British law, which the government and parliament will then spend months going through and deciding which laws to keep, amend, or dump altogether.

Sippitt is concerned that the rights of British workers and unions will be lost as part of the Great Repeal Bill process and replaced with legislation that doesn’t offer the same level of protection. In particular, Sippitt stressed the benefits the European Social Model to workers and the importance of it being replicated in post-Brexit legislation.

“We have had for decades now worked as part of what’s called the European Social Model,” he said.

“This is a partnership between employers and unions at a European level which has generated most of the EU content of our employment laws. That process is a relatively long-term dialogue that works towards trying to get a consensus between employers and unions at European level which then delivers rules that are applied to member states.

“This has by and large worked ok. There has always been debate at European level but the unions have been able to use that to influence worker rights issue in the UK by tackling it at European level.”

He added: “The interesting thing here is are we going to have anything that replicates that process?

“It seems to me that good industrial relations would be helped by having a social partner concept operating in the UK in the way that we have been accustomed to being in the EU. That would be a good thing for the unions as one of the big challenges over the next few years is that in our UK industries we need to be pulling together. If the unions have lost the route of influence they had at Brussels they may well be transferring to the UK battleground workers’ rights disputes in a national context. It would be a good thing to take our experience of the European Social Model.”

On whether leaving the EU will have a negative impact on employment rights in Britain, Sippitt said:

“It will definitely be diminished by a lack of access to Europe. For decades, national legislation has derived from this process of engagement between organisations, employees and unions at a European level which produces the process of creating acceptable rules which have worked pretty well. The idea that working together and talking about what rules you should adhere to has worked ok. Generally, it’s not given rise to any serious arguments.”

“… employees in the UK have benefited hugely from the effect of being in the European Union.”

“We need something in the UK to maintain that dialogue as we’ve had an increase in unions campaigning; hostility; industrial action and those things appear to be on the rise. If unions lost the opportunity to go to Europe to argue the case for strong worker rights then that’s just going to transfer to a UK battleground which is in nobody’s interest.

“We need employees and unions to be working together on the big issues for the improvement of our economy.”

He continued: “The picture I have after working for over four decades with this is that employees in the UK have benefited hugely from the effect of being in the European Union. This equally applies to other areas of life, whether it’s the environment, or consumer rights, or things of that sort.

“But certainly in the employment area EU has helped considerably in the protection of individual rights and I think that’s a big question going forward of how we can manage this without the influence of the EU.”

Sippitt was concerned, though, by the lack of conversation among politicians on how these employment rights are going to be replicated once Britain leaves the EU.”I have not seen any indication of it being on the agenda,” he said.

“There is an awful lot of talk about outcomes rather than process.

“In the case of worker rights, it is worth spending time thinking about how the dialogue that happens at the European level could be replicated in the U: to enable better industrial relations across the country.

“Put it on the agenda. It ought to be on the agenda.”

We have contacted the Department for Exiting the European Union for comment.

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