UK & Europe
Now that the UK and the EU have finally signed up to a trade agreement, it would be amiss of us not to mark the occasion with a short article covering the key Brexit issues which we believe will be of most interest to employers and HR professionals.
There has been much debate around how employment laws may change in the future given the UK’s new found freedom but it comes as no real surprise to learn that the trade agreement will limit those freedoms to some extent, in view of the level playing field commitments. Also in this article, Jonathan Chaimovic gives a brief summary of the new immigration regime to help employers understand what they need to do in order to recruit EU/EEA nationals in the UK. And finally, for employers who need to transfer employee information into and out of the UK, Mark Williamson looks at the practical steps organisations should take to ensure there is no breach of data protection laws.
The trade and co-operation agreement reached by the UK and EU covering the post transition period arrangements was finally signed on 30 December 2020. The level playing field commitments in the agreement have been designed to ensure that neither party obtains a competitive edge in various regulatory areas. In relation to employment law, it was agreed that neither party will weaken or reduce their labour and social standards below the levels in place at the end of the transition period in a manner that would “affect trade or investment”, including by a failure to enforce those standards. This applies to fundamental rights at work, health and safety standards, fair working conditions, employment standards, information and consultation rights, and restructuring of undertakings. Separate commitments in the section on road transport require both parties to comply with working time rules (including rest periods and breaks) for drivers transporting goods between the UK and EU.
The trade agreement also includes rebalancing measures to address future divergence of laws which have a material impact on trade or investment. Such divergence of laws will need to be significant and supported by reliable evidence of the impact, not mere conjecture or remote possibility. Importantly for the UK government, any disputes will not come under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice but will be referred to a panel of experts following a 90-day discussion period. The rebalancing mechanism set out in the agreement allows the parties to apply tariffs where there are significant divergences in the level playing field. There is also a provision allowing for the review and suspension of trade in certain circumstances.
The UK government will therefore have to avoid any weakening of employment rights that has a significant impact on trade or investment, since this could lead to a major dispute and a risk of tariffs or suspension of trade. This is unlikely to preclude minor changes to legislation, even where employee protections are reduced, providing there is no impact on trade and investment. It does, however, mean that the UK government will not have complete freedom to change employment laws in the future, despite having left the EU.
There has been much speculation as to which aspects of employment law future UK governments might change. In particular, it has been suggested by some commentators that the Agency Workers Regulations, which give equal rights to agency workers after 12 weeks, could be abolished. This is now less likely, as abolition of these rights could give the UK a clear competitive advantage which would affect trade. Other laws susceptible to change are those relating to working time. Whilst a wholesale repeal of the Working Time Regulations is now highly unlikely, some minor amendments, for example the abolition of the 48 hour maximum working week may be possible, as that is unlikely to have much impact on trade (particularly given the UK’s opt-out). Arguably, a resetting of holiday pay rights so that commission and overtime are not included in the calculation of holiday pay might also be acceptable. Other EU derived rights such as TUPE and collective redundancy consultation may see some amendments in time, but we are unlikely to see a full scale abolition of TUPE and collection redundancy laws. Finally, discrimination laws and family friendly rights are highly unlikely to be weakened, although a future government may be tempted to re-introduce a cap on maximum tribunal awards.
For more information on any employment or workplace related issue, please contact James Major or your usual contact at Clyde & Co.
The new immigration framework means that many organisations will have to revise some of their recruitment processes. The changes to the Immigration Rules were mostly agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement in 2020 and were therefore independent of, and largely unaffected by the Trade Agreement. Nevertheless, we set out a brief summary of the new framework below.
Free movement of EES nationals to the UK ended at 11pm on 31 December 2020. EES nationals residing in the UK before 1 January 2021 may apply for immigration status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) allowing them to remain in the UK, depending on eligibility, for Pre-Settled or Settled Status. Applications under the EUSS must be submitted by 30 June 2021. Post 31 December 2020, EES nationals entering the UK for employment/self-employment purposes must meet the same requirements to work in the UK as non-EES nationals. In many cases, this will require sponsorship by their prospective employer to work in the UK under the new Points Based System (PBS) framework. Irish nationals are unaffected by the changes and will continue to enjoy the unfettered right to work and reside in the UK.
For more information please see the Home Office guidance on the right to work checks.
If you have any queries on this or any other immigration topic please contact Jonathan Chaimovic or any member of the immigration team.
Multinational companies seeking to transfer personal data relating to their staff across borders, whether to or from the UK must ensure that they comply with data protection laws.
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) lies at the core of Europe’s digital privacy legislation, setting out guidelines for the collection and processing of personal data of individuals. As a European Regulation, it has direct effect. This meant it automatically came into effect in the UK in May 2018, and applied in the UK until 31 December 2020 (the end of the transition period). The Data Protection Act 2018 sets out the framework for data protection law in the UK. In addition to the 2018 Act, which is still in force, the GDPR will continue to apply post Brexit because it was directly incorporated into UK law by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 on 31 December 2020. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which publishes data protection guidance on its website, now distinguishes this from the EU’s GDPR by referring to it as the “UK GDPR”.
Up until 31 December 2020 UK employers could transfer personal data freely between the UK and the EEA under the EU Withdrawal Agreement. From 1 January 2021, the UK became a “third country” and two sets of rules apply in relation to data transfers. In essence these rules mean that UK organisations do not need any new arrangements for transfers from the UK, but will need to put in place safeguards to maintain data flows from the EEA to the UK:
The ICO advises that usually the simplest way to provide an appropriate safeguard for a restricted transfer from the EEA to the UK is to enter into standard contractual clauses with the sender of the personal data. Some organisations may have in place binding corporate rules covering a UK based entity which are authorised under the EU process. These will continue to provide an appropriate safeguard for restricted transfers but will need to be updated to recognise the UK as a third country. A different safeguard, such as provisions inserted into an administrative arrangement, will be appropriate for transfers from an EEA public body to a UK public body where one of the parties is unable to enter into a contract. The ICO has published guidance for businesses to help with this.
For more information on data protection issues please contact Mark Williamson or your usual contact at Clyde & Co