Bill to remove retained EU law will undermine employment rights and create more red tape for business

*This post was written in January 2023, for the most up-to-date information on legislative changes under RUEL please see our member-support page

CIPD Voice On... retained EU Law Bill, by Ben Willmott, CIPD's head of public policy

The CIPD has joined forces with the TUC, the Institute of Directors and the Employment Lawyers Association, among others, to call for the UK government to withdraw the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill currently going through parliament.  

The Bill, which will involve the review and potential removal of all EU derived legislation, including employment law, by the end of 2023 is designed to enable the UK to ‘fully realise the opportunities of Brexit, and to support the unique culture of innovation in the UK’. 

However, the Bill is likely to have precisely the opposite of its intended effect, creating much more uncertainty for business and new rules for employers to follow while also potentially reducing important employment protections for working people.  

It would have far-reaching and damaging implications for both organisations and workers, and could see the end of well-established employment rights that have been in place for decades in areas such as working time, equal rights and health and safety.  

The starting point for the CIPD’s firm opposition to the Bill is that there is no evidence that employment regulation is currently a significant obstacle to business innovation or growth. In fact, most employers broadly recognise its necessity and value. 

For example, only 6% of small firms surveyed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in its 2016 Small Business Survey identified employment regulation as an obstacle to growth.  

CIPD’s 2017 research Employment Regulation in the UK: burden or benefit found that a significant majority of the 508 organisations surveyed for the report agreed that all 28 listed areas of employment law – ranging from unfair dismissal to agency workers and TUPE, and many areas derived from EU law – were necessary. In many cases employment legislation was seen as supporting organisations’ strategic HR and/or business goals. Consequently, it’s clear that the central rationale for the Bill is flawed.  

Our opposition to the Bill is also grounded in the practical implications of such a significant review of regulation at one time and in such a tight timescale. The Bill would automatically sweep away about 2,400 pieces of legislation and long-established legal principles. 

Even if some pieces of legislation are retained – and ministers have yet to even set out their vision of future workplace, environmental and consumer regulation - decades-worth of precedents established by case law would be upended. This would cause considerable confusion for the courts as well as for employers.  

This scenario would make the interpretation of the law highly uncertain and likely lead to greater reliance on the already over-stretched courts and tribunal system, creating more uncertainty for hard-pressed employers and reducing clarity over employment rights for workers.  

It is also unclear how the UK’s governments and parliaments will cope with the vast amount of legislation this will involve being rushed through before the end of this year. These concerns are also reflected by the verdict of the Government’s independent Regulatory Policy Committee which has criticised the Government’s Impact Assessment on the Bill, describing it as “not fit for purpose”. 

In light of these many complex issues and far-reaching implications, it is clear that the government should withdraw the EU Retained Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which would allow it more capacity to focus on the multiple current challenges facing the UK.  

This would also not prevent the government taking a more targeted approach to reviewing specific pieces of EU-derived employment legislation where employers identify problems and where there could be improvements. 

At the very least, the government should delay the deadline for the review of EU-derived regulation until June 2026, something which would be allowed under the Bill’s provisions.

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