The right to work

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    Union law provides for the free movement of persons, which means, among other things, that every national of a Member State has the right to accept and engage in paid employment in another Member State.

    The United Kingdom's withdrawal agreement from the European Union, which enters into force on 1 February 2020, provides in the first place for a transition period until 31 December 2020, which can be extended once, in which the United Kingdom is no longer part of the European Union, but European regulations continue to apply in the United Kingdom and to British citizens.

    The withdrawal agreement also provides for arrangements related to the rights of the citizens that apply after the end of the transition period. This includes the right to work for all British nationals and their family members who exercised their right of residence before the end of the transition period in a European Member State and then continue their residence under the withdrawal agreement. The withdrawal agreement also provides for this right to work for family members who have a right of residence based on the withdrawal agreement. The same rights apply to European citizens in the same situation in the United Kingdom.

    The withdrawal agreement also stipulates an arrangement for frontier workers. These are people who engage in an economic activity in a country other than the country in which they live. The draft withdrawal agreement stipulates that British frontier workers may continue to work in a European Member State after the transition period. The same applies to European frontier workers in the United Kingdom.

    Any frontier worker covered by these provisions has the right to apply for a certificate in the country of employment certifying that he is entitled to work in that country.

    Workers and frontier workers thus covered by the provisions of the draft withdrawal agreement will, after the transition period, continue to enjoy the rights provided for in Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and in Regulation No 492/2011 on freedom of movement for workers within the Union. These rights include:

    • The right not to be discriminated against on grounds of nationality as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment. 
    • The right to take up and pursue an activity, in accordance with the rules applicable to nationals of the host State or the State of work; 
    • The right to assistance afforded by the employment offices of the host State or the State of work as offered to own nationals; 
    • The right to equal treatment in respect of conditions of employment and work, in particular as regards remuneration, dismissal, and in case of unemployment, reinstatement or re-employment;
    • The right to social and tax advantages; 
    • Collective rights; 
    • The rights and benefits accorded to national workers in matters of housing; 
    • The right for their children to be admitted to the general educational, apprenticeship and vocational training courses under the same conditions as the nationals of the host State or the State of work, if such children are residing in the territory where the worker works. 

    The withdrawal agreement does not cover European citizens who do not until after the transition period, wish to reside and work in the United Kingdom, nor British citizens who wish to reside and work in a European Member State. The political declaration on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union states that the principle of free movement of persons will no longer apply. The two parties will 'consider' the conditions of entry and residence for purposes such as research, study, training and youth exchanges. They will also 'consider' the coordination of social security provisions. Temporary entry and residence for business purposes is also mentioned in the political declaration. It remains to be seen how this political declaration will be materialised in the future treaty between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

    In principle, British citizens become 'third country nationals' who are only allowed to reside and work in a European Member State under strict conditions. In view of Belgium's division of powers, the regions will be competent, possibly in implementation of subsequent treaties between the United Kingdom and the European Union, to determine the conditions under which British citizens can work in each region. For the United Kingdom, it will be up to the British authorities to determine the conditions under which European citizens can reside and work.