While Covid-19 is presenting significant challenges for business, Brexit will fundamentally change the terms on which trade is undertaken between the UK and Ireland. Since the vote in 2016, the SFA has promoted Brexit readiness to members by providing information on customs, finance, supply chains and VAT. As we get closer to the end of the transition period, we now focus on how small firms can prepare and support their workforce in advance of 1 January 2021.
Properly preparing for Brexit means ensuring your business is customs ready. Unfortunately deal or no-deal delays at our ports after the 1st January may be a possibility and should be planned for.
In advance, employers should consider preparing for possible changes to working hours and rotas. Changing employee contractual working hours or days may be required for the business to handle the late arrival of goods to businesses in early January. Any change to an employee’s contract of employment requires consultation with the employee and his/her written consent. Staff impacted may range from office administrators to transport or supply chain personnel.
In the context of requiring staff to work additional hours, regard should be had to any existing Overtime Policy. From a Health and Safety perspective, employers need to consider the provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, to ensure that staff avail of required rest breaks and that there is no breach of the legislation.
Where the recruitment of additional staff for specified project/s or timeframe is necessary, the use of Fixed Term contracts is recommended. Employers should refer to the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act 2003 when drawing up this type of contract.
UK Citizens working in Ireland
Under the Common Travel Area UK citizens can enter Ireland without a visa, travel between the UK and Ireland and work without an employment permit along with other rights and entitlements. The Common Travel Area is separate from EU law and will continue to apply after 31 January 2021. The only recommendation for UK citizens is from the National Driver Licencing Service who ask that UK driver licences are exchanged for Irish licences before the end of 2020.
Rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit
EU citizens who have lived in the UK for more than 5 years can apply to the UK government for settled status. This status gives people the right to continue living, working, building up a state pension and using public services in the UK, as they do now.
It is not yet known what the requirements will be for EU citizens who want to go to live and work in the UK after the transition period. That will depend on the agreements that the EU and the UK make on their future relationship.
See UK citizens advice for more information.
The EU commission have prepared a notice for stakeholders regarding readiness’ in relation to regulated professions and the recognition of professional qualifications. Further updates will be issued where necessary.
2021 Could be a very challenging year for small firms and there may be a need to revise head count. As a first step employers may consider scaling down on agency and temporary workers or reducing overtime or certain benefits. Implementing employee lay-offs and introducing short-time working may also need to be contemplated. Importantly, employers must be cognisant of employment contracts and consult with employees to ensure such provisions can be introduced.
An employee working reduced hours while on short time will continue to accrue annual leave for the hours worked, while employees laid off will not accrue any leave. Employers may be required to re-calculate an employee’s entitlement for the remainder of the year. See link for more information on annual leave calculations
There is a concern that business competitors in the UK market may seek to relocate to Ireland and recruit key staff members. As a result, Irish-based employers should review or introduce contract provisions such as: confidentiality, intellectual property, non-compete and exclusivity of service, to safeguard, insofar as possible, critical company data/information. If these provisions do not currently exist, they can only be introduced by way of amendment to contracts. Employers must consult and obtain consent of the individual before any such amendment is done.
To best prepare your staff for the impact of Brexit business owners and managers should communicate regularly with staff to give reassurance and up to date information on how the company is getting ready for this significant transition.
Members are advised to consult with the Brexit Readiness Checklist to ensure key actions are taken to get ready for the changes Brexit will bring from 1 January 2021.