Workers rights How UK workers benefit from the EU

With enough newspaper coverage to paper Buckingham Palace, you'd be forgiven for thinking that all aspects of the EU Referendum had already been covered. Although "trade" and "immigration" have both been batted around as buzzwords, one topic which hasn't seen too many headlines is that of workers' rights.

In a televised debate just two weeks before the referendum, staunch Vote Leave campaigner Boris Johnson insisted that the Leave side were “determined to protect the workers”. However, official Remain campaigners Britain Stronger In Europe weren't satisfied with the former London mayor's performance on the night.

The Stronger In Press Twitter account went a step further by claiming that their opposition want to scrap workers' rights altogether.

In a piece with Leicester Law School colleagues Oxana Golynker, Lisa Rodgers, and School of Management Lecturer Benjamin Hopkins, Pascale Lorber from the Leicester Law School has already been spelling out exactly why being a member of the EU matters to British workers.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Pascale has been explaining how workers' rights in the UK could be affected if Britain leaves the European Union.

"UK workers have benefited from employment rights that derive from European law for many years." Lorber began, in a conversation with the News Centre. Lorber believes that many British people have access to rights which they use in their everyday life without knowing that the EU ever played a part in putting them in place. "It doesn't have a label saying 'This is European Law' because it's been transposed into national acts," said Lorber.

There's certainly evidence to suggest that this is the case. The Working Time Regulations allow workers to have breaks, to have holidays, to have a maximum number of hours they work per week, and regular breaks during the day or during the week. Those terms come from a European Directive called the Working Time Directive, and UK workers have benefited from those rights since the Working Time Regulations were enacted in 1998.

UK workers have increased the rights that they've obtained through the European Directives. An example of this comes from an employment tribunal which was heard at Leicester in early 2015, Lock v British Gas. Mr Lock was a British Gas employee who claimed that he'd received an unlawful deduction of his wages, in particular, his holiday pay. "The pay that he received for his holiday was only his basic salary, whereas on average, he would get much more than his basic salary because he was also paid through commission, so he asked for his employer to pay him his holiday as an average of what he would receive per month", Lorber explained. This case came before the national court who then asked the European Court of Justice how to interpret European law and whether to include an average of the salary when talking about holiday pay. "The Court of Justice said 'Yes - taking your holiday shouldn't be a sanction. Just because you go on holiday, doesn't mean you should be paid less than your average salary'...that was an interpretation by the court which allowed then UK workers to get rights in relation to their holiday pay," Lorber revealed.

"Leaving the EU would potentially have a negative impact on workers, because there is no certainty whether those rights would [remain] on the statute book," argued Lorber. Although she quickly pointed out that it's unlikely that all European law would disappear overnight, there is no certainty in relation to deregulation. The current government have already expressed the view to seriously reconsider the implementation of some workers' rights such as the 48 hour workweek. "The fact that people can't work more than 48 hours a week [and] the fact that people can get 28 days [holiday has] its origin in European law," Lorber added. "There is a risk that, depending on the government in power, there could be deregulation or less protection afforded to workers as a result of reviewing those laws that came from the European Union."

Academics have been weighing in

Not a day goes by that the EU Referendum isn't playing some part in the news. With a few days to go, many University of Leicester academics have been giving their opinions on such an incredibly topical and divisive subject. It's important to stress that these are not necessarily the views of the University of Leicester and that each piece expresses the independent views and opinions of the academics behind them. Of course, if you don't agree with what they have to say, are a doctoral student or academic at the University of Leicester, you can write a counter opinion for Think: Leicester yourself. If you'd like to do so, please send it to Alex Phillimore at

Where will workers' rights be better? In or out?

In new programme "Expert Comment: Brexit", eight University of Leicester academics from the Department of Economics, Department of Politics and International Relations, School of Management, and the Leicester Law School - including Pascale Lorber - have been weighing in on the debate, as well as the President and Vice-Chancellor himself.

Among others, some of the themes explored include how workers' rights, trade, employment, crime, terrorism and influence could all be affected by the referendum result.

You can listen to the programme for yourself here:

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