Now that the UK’s exit from the European Union is almost a certainty, the impact of Brexit on labor laws is becoming an ever more real concern for employers. The threat of certain policy changes is very real – and perhaps none so much as the fierce debate over the Working Time Directive (WTD). The EU rule, last updated in 2003, dictates protective minimums and maximums on the employee work week, break times, holiday pay, and more.
Some argue that Brexit is the perfect opportunity to reform or even repeal the WTD. Concerns include the possibility for individual employees to abuse the current system, as well as a lack of opportunity for millions of workers to earn overtime wages. But even these claims are debatable, considering that many individuals can opt-out of the directive and work more hours if they prefer.
Is there a right or wrong answer? Right now, we can’t know for sure, but there is at least a safe direction. While employers are justifiably concerned about what is best for business, they should bear in mind that businesses are comprised of workers; and acting in their best interests is a far smarter practice than leaving them unprotected. What should businesses expect if the directive is rescinded, amended, or simply left alone? Let’s look at some options.
A complete repeal — Unsurprisingly, workers in the UK are not overly supportive of scrapping a directive that ensures paid holidays, minimum working hours and rest breaks. Putting these and other entitlements at risk could potentially invite the exploitation of workers in vulnerable positions – shifting the balance of power significantly in favor of businesses, benefiting them while simultaneously diminishing workers’ rights. After all, a disenfranchised worker is an unhappy worker and an unhappy worker is always going to affect the bottom line. Even without referencing the countless studies proving that happy workers are more productive, it’s common sense that a little respect for a work/life balance goes a long way. Employee health, wellbeing, and safety also factor heavily into this – lowered stress, better sleep, higher quality of service, and decreased accidents benefit not only workers but employers as well.
Adjusted as necessary — “Amended” can mean many things, but not all changes are necessarily harmful. For example, the WTD entitles employees who only work part-time to the same holiday pay as a full-time employee, depending on when they time their leave. This can create extra strain on businesses and introduce arbitrary, unnecessary discrepancies. Calculating each employee’s pay rate during annual leave is also notoriously complicated, requiring compulsory and voluntary overtime, incentive bonuses, and results-based commission payments to be taken into account in order to determine the precise amount. An infamously complex initiative, some may find amendments to the WTD a welcome change.
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No change — Keeping the status quo can also have its benefits, preserving the advantages of having neighboring regions observe the same or similar labor laws, especially when it comes to the exchange of workers living in the EU or UK. Leaving the directive untouched could also ensure a better trade relationship with the EU, as the closer the UK is to EU policies, the easier it will be to grant them full market access. Ultimately, erring on the side of worker safety and health is generally regarded as a smart business practice, and with these considerations already built in to the Working Time Regulations, the work is already done.
With nothing set in stone, the future of the United Kingdom’s labor law is anyone’s best guess. Pulled in both directions, the Working Time Directive is an important piece of legislation – and keeping track of its status in these uncertain times can help businesses do their part by putting processes and systems in place that offer the flexibility to incorporate change. Do you have any thoughts on how this might play out? We’d love to hear it! Tweet us @Replicon and let us know what you think.