Last week, the burger chain Byron – one of the most popular burger chains in London – hit the headlines. 35 of its workers were arrested after Home Office investigations found that they had been working in the country illegally. Most of the workers had come in from countries such as Egypt and Albania. Many of them had been deported within 24 hours.
Naturally, this has caused a lot of controversy. Thousands of people took to Twitter (and even to the restaurants themselves) to voice their anger at the chain for co-operating with authorities. Many commenters seem to believe that this is a direct result of “Britain’s” decision to leave the European Union.
But it’s important to understand that this “sweep” was not targeting any immigrants from the EU. Most, if not all, of the arrested people were in Britain illegally, having forged documentation to gain employment at the Byron chain. The investigation had more than likely started weeks, if not months, before the Brexit vote. Let’s say Byron hadn’t co-operated with the Home Office after it had been discovered that they were employing illegal immigrants. Result: they probably would have suffered heavy penalties themselves. We should take care to see this from Byron’s point of view.
This situation has, understandably, given rise to many worries about worker’s rights in post-Brexit Britain. However, it’s worth remembering that Britain has not left the EU yet. Indeed, Article 50 has yet to be triggered, meaning that the two-year leaving process hasn’t even begun. When people said that changes weren’t going to happen overnight, they weren’t lying!
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be giving deep thought to the implications of Brexit on workers’ rights. But Byron’s scenario isn’t a result of Brexit, nor is it some apocalyptic sign of things to come.
Many of the workers’ rights in this country are given to us as a result of EU employment law. Many of the rights that workers in this country hold dear are not protected by British law. Equal pay? Fair working times? Annual leave? Maternity pay? The British government has no history of attempting to protect these things, especially not the Conservative government. These things are the direct results of EU intervention. If Britain leaves the EU, workers’ rights will be fair game for whichever government is in power.
There are two reasons why the people of Britain need to be giving this serious thought right now. The first reason is more relevant to business owners. What does all of this mean for your business? Will you be able to continue to give such benefits regardless of any post-EU law changes? Will you be compelled to make serious changes? Unfortunately, the answers aren’t clear right now. And it will all depend largely on the line of work you’re in. You may want to look for expert advice for your employment law answers.
The second relates to the executive powers that we choose to lead the country. As I’m sure you’ve heard, Theresa May is now the UK Prime Minister. By voting to leave the EU, and allowing Theresa May to take this position, we’ve put workers in a very dangerous position. May has long been an enemy of workers’ rights and will relish the opportunity to take away whatever she can.
Today, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to support workers’ rights in post-Brexit Britain. We may find soon find ourselves choosing between May and Corbyn for the position of Prime Minister. The protection of workers’ rights could very well be in the hands of the voters.