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Europe – in or out?

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Over the next few years the question of whether the UK should remain a member of the EU will be hotly debated by stakeholders, and will culminate in a referendum of the people. Believe it or not, being in the EU has almost nothing to do with straight bananas and the Euro-sausage but much to do with employment rights and regulations. And as an employment lawyer I take more than a passing interest in the subject.

So what has Europe done for the workers and business? For starters, it has given us rules and case law on virtually every area of the employment relationship, from data protection to discrimination, collective redundancies to CRD IV, parental rights to posted workers. My own favourite is the Working Time Directive. I have a sort of love/hate relationship with this: the provenance of countless interesting legal points lead back to this directive, as do hundreds of hours grappling with how to apply ECJ judgments on working time to conflicting domestic law. And even at a Member State level, the British Government fought with everything it had to retain the 48-hour opt-out. Who would have thought that a humble directive regulating the maximum number of working hours as well as giving workers an annual holiday entitlement could generate so much passion?

EuropeThere can be no doubt that EU membership has added layer upon layer of protection for workers. But from an employer’s perspective many (particularly SMEs) have struggled to keep up with the raft of rights, red-tape and costs that go with the protection. Is it all worth it? Looking back at developments since the date of entry into Europe in 1973, I think British workplaces have generally benefitted from our membership. I for one will be voting to stay in.

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