IN all the brouhaha over hard Brexit and the effects it will have on the economy and business, one rather important group of people tends to be overlooked – the workers.

Prime Minister Theresa May has promised that EU laws will be imported into UK law by the Great Repeal Bill, and that includes all the laws and regulations that cover workers’ rights.

Yet once the UK is free of EU rules, what is to stop a future Tory Government, or a Ukip one for that matter, ripping up the rule book on workers’ rights?

Loading article content

Dr Tobias Lock of Edinburgh University is recognised as one of Scotland’s foremost academic experts on European law and especially the rights of European citizens. He is a qualified German lawyer who lectures at Edinburgh and is co-director of the University’s Europa Institute.

The National asked Dr Lock what would happen to worker’s rights in the case of a hard Brexit, for instance the working time directive and the rights to different forms of leave. His comments make grim reading for all Scottish workers.

He said: “Some of the workers’ rights already in UK labour law were originally derived from European law.

“Currently what you cannot do is regress on the protections that there are, so the UK would not be allowed to go below the minimum requirements under EU law.

“After Brexit, hard or soft, regression will be possible. If you think about it from a Scottish point of view, labour laws are not devolved, they are reserved to Westminster – so if, for instance, the UK Government said 'we would like to get rid of the working time directive that says you can’t work for more than 48 hours a week', after Brexit they can just scrap it as what they would probably call red tape.

“EU membership guarantees minimum standards for workers' rights, so will that be high up on the agenda for the deal that’s coming? I don’t think so. The threat is there of the UK becoming a low-wage, deregulated economy so the EU might want to avoid that by insisting on those minimum standards as part of the deal. There is a likelihood that workers’ rights and minimum standards might become part of the trade deal so that the UK can’t slash employment rights to undercut wages, but it is very difficult to predict what will happen in the negotiations over the deal.”

Dr Lock believe we will not find out what the UK Government really wants until after the Great Repeal Bill is passed.

He explained: “On the day the UK exits the EU – say March 31, 2019 – labour law is not going to change, but the law will be at risk, because there will no longer be an obligation to have the rules and regulations we have at the moment.

“After the Great Repeal Bill, however, there will have to be legislation which says which parts are to be kept and which scrapped, and at present we just do not know what the outcome will be.”