Issue date
03 May 2016

3 May 2016

A new report published today (Tuesday) by GQ Employment Law confirms that workers’ rights are at risk if the UK votes to leave the EU, says the TUC.

The report says that even if the UK were to remain in the single market, but outside the EU, some rights would be at risk, including working time protections, discrimination compensation, and protections for agency workers.

The assessment of GQ Employment Law follows a more substantial independent legal opinion by Michael Ford QC, the Employment Silk of 2015. In his view, Brexit would mean that “all the social rights in employment currently required by EU law would be potentially vulnerable”.

GQ Employment Law only looked at one Brexit scenario, in which the UK negotiates a deal similar to Norway of paying to remain in the single market and abide by all its rules, but outside the EU and without a say in making those rules. Under this scenario, they found that several protections for working people could be reduced.

However, many leading Brexit campaigners, such as the free-market group Economists for Brexit, say they want complete withdrawal from the single market so that employment laws can be repealed. The TUC says that this would allow a government with a deregulatory agenda to make much more sweeping changes to employment law, such as reducing paid holidays, parental leave entitlements, and discrimination protections for pregnant workers.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “A lot of the debate has focussed on how many people might lose their job because of Brexit. But even people whose jobs are not a risk would still face the threat of losing hard-won rights at work.

“GQ Employment have optimistically assumed that the UK would negotiate a similar Brexit deal to Norway. But even on this basis, they think that some important employment rights will still be at risk.

“Nobody knows for certain how bad it could get. But all the employment law experts agree that it will be worse for workers’ rights.”


- The TUC commissioned an independent legal opinion from Michael Ford QC on the consequences of Brexit for UK employment law and workers’ rights. A full copy can be found at 

- Michael Ford QC’s legal opinion suggests that, based on past history and extant policy documents, the workers’ rights most vulnerable to repeal are:

  • Collective consultation, including the right for workers’ representatives to be consulted if major changes are planned that will change people’s jobs or result in redundancies (as have been used in recent major announcements in the steel industry).
  • Working time rules, including limits on working hours and rules on the amount of holiday pay a workers is entitled to.
  • EU-derived health and safety regulations.
  • Transfer of Undertakings (TUPE), i.e. the EU-derived protections to the terms and conditions of workers at an organisation or service that is transferred or outsourced to a new employer.
  • Protections for agency workers and other ‘atypical’ workers, such as part-time workers.
  • Current levels of compensation for discrimination of all kinds, including equal pay awards and age discrimination.

See paragraphs 3 and 107 of the opinion for an overview, and paragraphs 27 to 80 for full details.

- The group Economists for Brexit was launched on 28 April 2016. Their launch report, The Economy after Brexit, argues for the UK not to negotiate access to the single market and to trade under World Trade Organisation rules instead. The reports also argues that “we [the UK] would be able to shape or repeal both product and process regulations (such as employment law) to suit our domestic circumstances”.

- All TUC press releases can be found at

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