Brexit and labor relations

Professional articles

A few days on from the unexpected outcome of the UK referendum, it is time to ask what impact it will have on labor relations within the EU and on one of its main pillars: the free movement of workers.

Misericordia Borràs Cabaces (partner of the Barcelona Labor and Employment practice)

Before beginning our commentary, we must stress that prudence should be exercised with respect to any conclusions that may, at first glance, appear to derive from the referendum held on June 23. Prudence is required not only as regards the timeline for leaving the EU—late 2018 or even early 2019—but also in terms of the institutional and legal hurdles that must be overcome in triggering Brexit, both in the UK and within the EU itself.

Since the right to free movement of workers was one of the pivotal arguments used by the Leave camp, it is worth analyzing the different scenarios that may arise if Brexit goes ahead. As has already been mooted, one of the potential scenarios following the UK’s departure from the EU is that the UK could sign bilateral agreements with the EU that would allow it to assume certain Community rules, in the same way that Switzerland does in some areas. The second option would be for the UK to adhere to the European Economic Area, joining Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, a scenario that would permit the free movement of British and EU workers in the respective territories, as is the case at present. Lastly, and perhaps the scenario most in keeping with the Leave camp’s rhetoric, would be for the UK to sign specific agreements with certain countries in order to establish a specific and reciprocal policy regarding the movement of workers, with particular rules regarding work and residence permits and the effects of such movements in terms of the coordination of social security systems.

Without a doubt, the final outcome is a cause for concern for employers and employees alike, for different but not necessarily opposing reasons. In any case, the solution finally adopted should not be to the detriment of one of the basic pillars supporting the creation of the European Union back in the mid-20th century: the free movement of workers.


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