The starting gun has been fired for the EU referendum and the big beasts of the political world are lining up to persuade us to either stay or leave.
Should the vote be to leave the EU, what will the effect be on UK employment law? Will we be ushering in a golden age of small Government and minimal regulation or will it be business as usual?
In theory, ‘Brexit’ will free the UK to roll back a raft of employment and health & safety regulations. Yet, there is every reason to believe that the impact of an exit from the EU may be less that some fear and others hope.
Any vote to exit would be followed by lengthy negotiations, with radical changes unlikely to be implemented until these concluded. Even then, the UK may wish to retain some form of relationship with the EU, which would involve the UK having to accept some EU legislation, including employment regulations.
Even if the UK were to sever all ties with Europe, there are practical difficulties with a ‘slash and burn’ approach to employment and health & safety regulations. People may complain about interference from Brussels, but how many would be happy to lose their right to paid annual leave or accept a situation where employers could discriminate against job applicants based on the race, gender, age or sexual orientation? Again, people may bemoan a ‘where there is blame, there is a claim’ culture, but few would like to attend a workplace where safety rules were not implemented and enforced.
Far more likely than a wholesale change, is a tinkering around the edges of current regulations. One or two of the less obviously necessary regulations may disappear, for instance the Agency Workers Regulations. The right to paid leave under the Working Time Regulations would in all probability remain, but some other restrictions on working hours could go.
And perhaps that is the lesson of the current debate over Europe. It has excited much passion, but maybe the truth is that, certainly in employment and health & safety terms, no matter the outcome, not a lot may end up changing.