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Lawyers In For Britain: The UK and the EU: Benefits, misconceptions and alternatives banner

EU law ensures that UK workers are protected wherever they work in the EU. EU law also gives UK businesses the reassurance that their EU trading partners are operating to the same standards of workers’ rights.

  • EU law provides a basic level of protection for all EU workers. Workers are protected against a “race to the bottom” on workers’ rights by businesses seeking to become more competitive by undercutting each other on wages, and social and employment benefits.[1]
  • A consistent standard of employment rights benefits both employees and employers. A basic level of protection for workers at EU level provides greater certainty for employers operating across borders. Compliance costs and administrative burdens are reduced.[2]
  • Equally, the basic protections afforded by EU law benefit British workers operating in other EU countries.
  • EU law protects workers against discrimination based on sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion or belief.[3]
  • EU law sets minimum requirements on working conditions, including working hours, rest breaks and annual leave. The British Medical Association says that this has benefitted staff and patient safety in the NHS.[4]
  • EU law protects employees’ terms and conditions when the businesses for which they work are restructured or reconfigured.[5]

The Royal College of Nursing in its response to the call for evidence on Balance of Competence Review: Social and Employment Policy, states: “The NHS has seen significant changes in recent years, which has led to a growth in independent providers of publicly funded health services as well as the transfer of staff working in public health in England from the NHS to local government. It is important that nurses and other staff who continue to ensure continuity of care and service provision during these reforms are not disadvantaged in terms of working conditions and employment benefits if their employer changes. The EU’s TUPE legislation has been a cornerstone in providing legal protection to staff when such reconfigurations take place”.[6]


 

  1. HM Government, Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union – Social and Employment Policy, Summer 2014, page 42: “by setting minimum requirements, EU competence in this area ensures that businesses in the Single Market compete within the same basic framework of rules and workers enjoy the same basic level of protections. This ensures fair competition between companies and prevents exploitation of workers by avoiding a ‘race to the bottom’ where businesses seek to become more competitive by undercutting each other on wage and social and employment costs” – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/332524/review-of-the-balance-of-competences-between-the-united-kingdom-and-the-european-union-social-and-employment-policy.pdf.
  2. HM Government, Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union – Social and Employment Policy, Summer 2014, page 43: “employment and social policy agreed at EU-level can be helpful for businesses as it levels the playing field within the Single Market. Businesses who operate cross-border suffer where there is too much variation in regulation, as it increases uncertainty, compliance costs and administrative burdens/any differences in national regulations may add to business costs and disincentivise companies from trading or expanding abroad” – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/332524/review-of-the-balance-of-competences-between-the-united-kingdom-and-the-european-union-social-and-employment-policy.pdf.
  3. Examples include, but are not limited, to: equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment, training, working conditions, pay and occupational social security schemes (the Gender Directive) – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32004L0113&from=EN. equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin, prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of race in employment, training, social protection, education and access to and the supply of goods and services which are available to the public (the Race Directive) – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32000L0043:en:HTML.
  4. HM Government, Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union – Social and Employment Policy, Summer 2014, page 60: “The Working Time Directive (“WTD”) contains restrictions on night work, requirements for regular rest breaks and four weeks paid annual leave… The objective of the WTD was to protect the health and safety of workers by setting minimum requirements on working hours, rest breaks and annual leave… Respondents, including the BMA, the Royal College of Midwives, Health Education England and others point out that the WTD has benefits to staff and to patient safety in the NHS” – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/332524/review-of-the-balance-of-competences-between-the-united-kingdom-and-the-european-union-social-and-employment-policy.pdf.
  5. Such protections are provided largely under the TUPE legislation (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 – http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2006/246/contents/made, as amended by the “Collective Redundancies and Transfer of Undertakings” (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 – http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2014/16/regulation/8/made). When TUPE applies, the employees of the outgoing employer automatically become employees of the incoming employer at the point of transfer. They carry with them their continuous service from the outgoing employer, and should continue to enjoy the same terms and conditions of employment with the incoming employer.
  6. Royal College of Nursing, RCN response to Balance of Competences survey on employment and social affairs, January 2014, page 4 – https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/review-of-uk-and-eu-balance-of-competences-call-for-evidence-on-social-and-employment-policy.