A Word from the Editor - January/February 2020

Alex Lock, DAC Beachcroft LLP
Saturday, February 1, 2020

The general election has been and gone, and the wider public may feel that life can go back to normal, with the next election likely to be in 2024. With an 80-seat majority in the Commons, there is far less scope for the knife-edge debates and votes we have seen over the past two or three years. For many, the weight of indecision and uncertainty has been lifted and they can settle in to a period of calm and serenity.

That is, of course, an exaggerated version of the truth, certainly for those in the employment law world, whether they are practitioners or politicians. As we look ahead and across 2020, there are a number of important matters that we need to grapple with. This is not meant in the theoretical sense – there are always things that need to be dealt with but often are not – but, either as a result of promises made or circumstances, they will be on the agenda.

The three areas that will become pressing over the course of this year are: Brexit; manifesto promises; and funding and resources.

The phrase relentlessly pushed by the Conservatives during the election campaign was, ‘Get Brexit done’. In its narrowest sense, it will be. By about the time you read this, the UK will have formally left the European Union and, therefore, we will have seen a British Exit. For those that gave the claim to ‘get it done’ more than about three seconds thought it was clear that the end of January would only be the beginning, marking the moment when the UK and the EU would be able to discuss their future relationship in detail.

The key issue for employment lawyers will be the extent to which the UK will be aligned – statically or dynamically – with the EU. The Government has made clear that it will not be aligned with the EU, as it wishes to decide its own regulatory framework. The extent to which this goes beyond goods is unknown, but it may well include workers’ rights.

If one did wish to diverge, then it is unlikely that the motivation would be to enhance the minimum protections EU law provides. There has never been any chance of adopting higher standards, only lower ones. This throws up an interesting conundrum for the Government. It is keen to push its appeal beyond business and the South of England, to workers in the Midlands and the North. Reducing rights they currently enjoy by virtue of EU regulation (for example, covering working time and annual leave) may undermine the authenticity of such an appeal.

The second area of challenge will be to deliver on manifesto promises. These include some that are a little nebulous – introducing more fairness into the workplace – to other more concrete ones, such as the creation of a single enforcement body in relation to some – or all? – employment rights. Although the first issue – Brexit – need not interfere with the manifesto issues from an alignment perspective, as we have seen over the past three years, the difficulty is finding the time and space to deal with anything that is not Brexit-related.

The final issue is not confined to employment law but does affect most of us every day – funding and resources. Before one dreams of digital hearings and interactive case management systems, there are some basics to address such as investing in the administration staff, having more judges and providing venues with air conditioning and heating that works.

Alex Lock, DAC Beachcroft LLP

The legal content in this article is believed to be correct and true on this date.