We’ve all been absorbing the “leave” vote for a couple of months. There are some immediate impacts on good HR practice and some issues for the medium term.
Of immediate concern, tension in the workplace is up. Staff are concerned about their future or that of their colleagues and some are facing the increased insecurity of being visibly different. Hate crimes have increased and we need to be vigilant about refreshing our safety policies for protecting front-line staff; this should mean focusing on staff counselling, employee assistance schemes and just talking about how staff are feeling in the workplace. It’s not yet clear what Theresa May’s government will do about the austerity agenda, but I predict our funding climate is not going to improve.
Immigration and the principle of free movement of peoples across the EU to live and work became the flashpoint for most of the Brexit campaigners. There seems to be a collective fantasy that if only all the Poles, French, Germans, Spanish, Romanians and other EU nationals went home there would be enough jobs for the Brits who can’t get work.
I’m not going to repeat the arguments about this fallacy, but if all the “immigrants” went home tomorrow the economy would collapse and most of the NHS, care homes and the voluntary sector that also relies on caring staff would shut down. Those employers in our sector who do employ nationals of other countries, whether inside or outside the EU, will have to get ready for some change in vetting and qualifications regimes. But the UK will still need immigrant workers to operate – so there will be some kind of regime.
EU directives also underpin many current individual and collective employment rights.
Individual protection covers working time and annual holidays, rights for parents and family-friendly policies, anti-discrimination legislation and “atypical” workers.
EU collective rights cover collective redundancies, transfer of workers between employers, and information and consultation.
Nothing will change in the short term. Once we have left the EU, which will take at least two years and probably more like five, in theory our government can amend or repeal employment law if it can get it through parliament. This government’s stated policy is anti-regulation in all areas, yet it has still found time to enact the Shared Parental Leave Regulations, some of the most complex family-friendly procedures in recent years – and all without the intervention of the EU.
I don’t really see them rolling back the Equality Act 2010 – most of which is underpinned by EU directives. The intertwined legal framework of EU directives and UK employment law will not be easy to dismantle, even if there is the political will to do so.
This article first appeared in Third Sector.