Brexit. Brexit. Brexit. Whilst Christmas and New Year provided a welcome rest from Brexit-dominated headlines, there is no doubt that the media train will start in earnest sooner rather than later.
Just before Christmas, various newspapers reported that the Working Time Regulations could be a target for the Government following the UK’s departure from the EU. Certain newspapers went further and stated that repealing or substantially amending the Working Time Regulations would be a positive example of removing so-called ‘red tape’ and freeing businesses from the burden of overbearing regulations; some newspapers even trotted out the over-used line of ‘taking back control’.
So, to use that awful phrase, should the UK ‘take back control’ and amend the Working Time Regulations?
The simple answer? No. Ahh but it’s ‘red tape’, isn’t it? Well, not really. At their core, the Regulations state that a worker should have at least 1 day off in any fortnight, should have a 20 minute (unpaid) break in any working day in which they work more than 6 hours and should be given at least 20 days annual leave (plus bank holidays) per year. It’s hardly controversial that an individual should have 1 day away from the workplace in 14 days or a 20 minute break in a 7 hour day? You’d have to be practically Victorian in terms of workplace attitudes to reasonably argue otherwise!
What about a worker who works 5 hours per day on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays? Well, because of their hours and their 3 day working week, they wouldn’t be entitled to any breaks on any working days and would only receive 12 days of annual leave plus appropriate pro-rata bank holidays per year. Again, hardly a burden on a reasonable employer and, on the contrary, not very generous for the individual.
Well, some extreme Brexiteers might say, isn’t it ridiculous that we are ‘forced’ to give full-time workers a minimum of 28 days’ annual leave per year (including usual bank holidays) by the EU. Well, in fact, the EU Directive only provides for 20 days’ of annual leave per year and it was the UK itself which increased this to 28 days in order to include bank holidays so, instead, this is a rare example of the UK saying ‘we will be kinder to workers than the EU dictates’.
Now, I’m not going to argue that so-called ‘red tape’ doesn’t exist against businesses. I’m also not going to argue that the UK Government can’t effect positive change in relation to employment law rights after leaving the EU. However, attacking the minimum rest periods and annual leave allowance of workers and employees through amending legislation designed to protect the physical and mental health of those individuals isn’t the area to do it and, in reality, during the course of advising employers daily, very few actually view the Working Time Regulations as a burden.
What instead? Well, a forward-thinking 21st century solution would be looking to ensure that those in work can stay above the poverty line, not engaging in Victorian-eske thinking and stripping back workers’ minimum rights.