Businesses should not withdraw employee rights after Brexit

employee rights are importantAs negotiations between the EU and UK on Brexit resume this week, yet another business organisation, The British Chambers of Commerce, has warned that business patience is “wearing thin” over the lack of clarity about the kind of deal being pursued.

In an open letter the BCC’s president Francis Martin and director general Adam Marshall wrote: “Businesses need those elected to govern our country to make choices – and to deliver a clear, unequivocal statement of intent.”

While the focus at the moment may be on the transition period and the eventual trade deal the legal protections for employees are another area of uncertainty for businesses.

In January an article in the Independent warned that many of these rights were enshrined in EU law and could be at risk after Brexit.

They include restrictions on hours worked imposed by the EU Working Time Directive, time off from work, rights to paid holiday and unpaid parental leave, and anti-discrimination laws.

Most vulnerable will be low-paid and “gig” economy workers on zero hours contracts, but there are implications for all employees.

There are good reasons for businesses to maintain employee rights after Brexit

Some employers might see Brexit as an opportunity to reduce employment rights and get more for less from their staff, especially given the likelihood that overseas trade is likely to become even more competitive and costly.

However, there are two major considerations for not following this route.

Firstly, there is already a well-known skills shortage in some sectors, notably Engineering, IT, construction and health care. To at least partially fill the gap businesses have been relying on EU migrant labour, while others have got the message that training existing employees and embarking on apprenticeships is important for the future but this will take time to feed through into a skilled workforce.

Secondly, the UK has been enjoying record levels of employment, which means the pool of available labour is very limited.

But businesses need to plan their staffing needs and in particular how they will recruit and retain staff in a competitive labour market. This might also encourage them to think more about how employees are truly valued. “My people are my greatest asset” might yet become a reality rather than a hollow phrase trotted out by companies that don’t make the effort in a way that is appreciated by their staff.

There is ample evidence that job security is a prerequisite for employee engagement. Job insecurity usually leads to increased absenteeism and staff turnover, decreased productivity and lower levels of trust in employers.

If employees are uncertain about their security, their employment conditions and their rights after Brexit they are unlikely to be committed to their employer.

Communicating and reassuring employees is the key to keeping them involved and feeling valued where failure to do so leads to reduction in productivity.

They really are your greatest asset.

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