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No pressure from employers to change workers’ rights post-Brexit

New research published by the CIPD does not suggest that employers want to roll back workers’ rights following the UK’s departure from the EU. On the contrary, the majority of organisations (52%) go beyond the statutory minimum when implementing employment law at work, with a further 44% meeting the minimum standard.

Further, the majority of employers think that all 28 employment laws set out in the survey, which collectively cover virtually the whole of the UK’s employment protection framework, are necessary. The laws considered most essential relate to unfair dismissal (93%), data protection (92%), redundancy (92%), holiday pay (91%) and disability discrimination (90%).

The CIPD partnered with law firm Lewis Silkin to survey a representative sample of more than 500 employers about their views and experiences of implementing UK and EU employment law.


A broadly positive picture

The research reveals a predominantly positive view of employment law. For example, almost two-thirds (63%) agree that ‘implementing employment law makes a positive contribution to employee relationships’, and seven in ten (69%) agree that implementing employment law improves the quality of employees’ working lives. Further, new employment regulation is viewed as the joint-top driver of change in employment practice and behaviour in organisations, with more than one-third (35%) rating it in their top five, together with the need to improve business performance.

However, less than half of respondents believe that more than a third of these 28 employment law areas are well drafted and easy to apply in practice. Some pieces of legislation have a particularly high level of disparity between being viewed as ‘necessary’ versus ‘well drafted/easy to apply’. Those relating to whistleblowing, modern slavery, agency workers, unfair dismissal and TUPE have the highest level of difference between how necessary they are compared with how well written they are and easy to implement.

These findings reveal that it is not the quantity but the efficacy of employment regulation that is the key question, both in terms of the quality of its drafting and how straightforward it is to apply in the workplace.

Employers told us that the three main barriers to implementing employment law are:

  • a lack of resources (staff/budget/time) – ranked as a barrier by 44% of all respondents
  • too much legislation – ranked as a barrier by 34% of all respondents
  • a lack of awareness of changes to legislation – ranked as a barrier by 31% of all respondents.


Keeping up to date

Employers depend on a diverse range of external information sources to keep abreast of regulatory changes, the top one being their HR department (33% of respondents), followed by Government departments’ websites and/or publications (30%), an employment law firm (27%) and Acas (25%).

Overall, there is little discrepancy between the level of employers’ reliance on a particular information source and its perceived effectiveness when respondents were asked to rank their most important information source. The exception is trade unions – just 11% of respondents overall reported that they draw on information from a trade union to seek advice on new legislation (perhaps reflecting the lower level of union representation in the private sector where many of the employers responding to our survey are based). However, almost three times this proportion (32%) rank trade unions as a top-five information source.

This shows the continued relevance of trade unions in the modern workplace and their potential to contribute to good employment relations and workplace practice.


The future debate

The UK already has more flexibility than is sometimes realised over employment law. This degree of flexibility has enabled the UK to maintain one of the most lightly regulated labour markets in the OECD in terms of employment protection legislation. However, there remains significant scope for improving the quality and impact of the existing regulatory framework affecting UK workplaces. We therefore welcome the recent and ongoing scrutiny by Parliament and Government into the future world of work, including the so-called ‘gig economy’.

 The discourse about the pros and cons of employment law is often politicised and polarised, with a dominant theme focusing on the need for UK employers to be freed from the burden of ‘red tape’. The risk is that this kind of rhetoric can mask the real impact of employment regulation in workplaces. With the formal Brexit process now underway, it is crucial that we add clarity and insight to the debate about the value of employment regulation. The CIPD looks forward to an evidence-based discussion going forward.


Rachel Suff is an Employment relations adviser for the CIPD and is the author of the report