‘Unchartered’ Waters: Fundamental Rights, Brexit and the (Re)constitution of the Employment Law Hierarchy of Norms

Dr Niall O’Connor, Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex, has authored an article exploring the consequences of Brexit for the constitutional status of the employment rights found in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the Charter).

The decision of the British people to leave the European Union (EU) raises foundational questions for many legal fields. The effects are especially likely to be felt within domestic employment law, which now has a strong basis in EU law. Of particular concern is the removal of the nascent EU fundamental employment rights influence over domestic legislation. Employment lawyers have long relied on fundamental rights as a means of preserving the autonomy of their subject from general private law. One manifestation of this turn to fundamental rights concepts has been the ‘constitutionalisation’ of employment rights. EU law, notably the Charter of Fundamental Rights, has become a key underpinning of this constitutionalisation process.

This article considers the effects of the constitutionalisation in the United Kingdom employment sphere of some of the rights found in the Charter’s Solidarity Title, through its role in the emergence of a hierarchy of sources or ‘norms’ in the employment field. In order to address the question of the Charter’s influence on the hierarchy of sources in the employment context, three interrelated processes are examined.

The article begins by exploring the ‘constitutionalisation’ process, by setting out the nature of the Charter and the effects of its employment rights on the hierarchy of sources. This is followed by a consideration of the ‘deconstitutionalisation’ process brought about by Brexit, before finally examining whether a potential ‘reconstitutionalisation’ process might be underway by looking at key terms of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the potential to replicate the Charter in domestic law.

The article was published as Online First Article on 17 March 2020 in the European Labour Law Journal and is available here.