Published on March 4th, 2016 | by frances1
Is our destiny business driven deregulations or social advancement?
By Geoff Fletcher, Prospect Health and Safety Executive Branch Secretary
Deregulation is high on the agenda of both the UK government and the EU. From my position of Branch Secretary of the Health and Safety Executive Branch of Prospect I have witnessed the coalition government cut HSE’s funding, hold formal reviews of HSE and look to deregulate through the “Red Tape Challenge”. However the coalition and current government have seen their plans to deregulate the Health and Safety protections of UK workers frustrated. Generally the legislative framework has withstood the attacks due to the very fact that it is largely underpinned by EU treaties and directives.
During the Brussels fact finding trip we met various senior people in the European trade union and labour movements, each of which were keen to share their views on the workings of the EU, both negative and positive, and the position of the worker within the social aspects of the EU treaties
At the EU parliament building, the workings, decision making mechanisms and the make-up of the various political groupings within the parliament were all explained. The positive message I took from the discussions was that decisions of the parliament are arrived at by building alliances and forming consensus, not by narrow party positions, and certainly not solely, as we are often told, by bureaucrats and commissioners. It was instilled on us that the UK takes a active participatory role in developing policy and directives through elected MEPs and government nominated Commissioners, therefore some “cabinet style” responsibility for the outcomes from the EU should be taken, but does our parliamentary system and culture undermine our ability to accept consensus when we are on the losing side?
We also heard about the EU’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme (REFIT) and the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
REFIT was originally intended to ensure that EU regulation was fit for purpose. This has more recently been hijacked by the deregulatory hawks within the EU including parts of the commission, MEP groupings and business/employer lobbyists, and is now being driven by many of the fundamentals of the UK coalition governments red tape challenge agenda see IER report Deregulation in EU for more detail
TTIP again is seen by many as a pro-business agenda and has the potential to erode the rights of the public and workers by equalising protections downwards, cutting costs on business and maximising profits at the expense of workers and the public.
The representatives of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) we met, explained the ETUCs work behind the scenes. Such work included ensuring that Employment rights didn’t explicitly form part of the Brexit negotiations. They expressed their frustration that the ongoing political uncertainty created by the threat of Brexit had stifled any progress in the worker and social arena. The mood was clearly affected by the concerns of what Brexit could lead to, both for the UK and the wider EU
They reiterated the challenges faced by the ETUC and its affiliates in challenging the REFIT agenda and considered that all employment and social protections were in the sights of the deregulators.
We were told that the social aspects of the EU were under threat and even the President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker had said that the current commission is the last chance for Social Europe. This suggests that the EU approach based on social advancement and minimum standards expressed in underpinning regulations has been curtailed, with the business lobby winning the arguments, and workers increasingly being seen as a resource, rather than citizens entitled to rewarding jobs and improvements to their lives as enshrined in Article 3 (i) of the 1957 Treaty of Rome wiki-page Treaty of Rome and further expressed in subsequent Treaties.
Clearly there is a struggle at the heart of the EU for control of the agenda. At present the business lobby supported by the political right has the upper hand, and the trade unions and broad left political groups are fighting to stave off the worst excesses of deregulation.
This mirrors the trade union challenge in the UK, were there is constant pressure from elements of the political right for the UK to move towards a US style hire and fire culture. Fortunately trade union lobbying and UK membership of the EU has countered this argument and UK workers enjoy the safety net of the EU directive derived legislation and the advancement of employment rights TUC report UK employment rights and the EU This embedded EU protection is now under real threat with the impending referendum.
The scenario of a vote to leave the EU would create a significant period of uncertainty, and whilst it will not mean an immediate loss of labour and social rights and protections, it will put them in jeopardy, and their very future in the hands of a victorious Out Campaign.
Or would you prefer to vote to remain so we can maintain OUR labour and social protections and from within a strong Europe wide alliance, push back against the deregulators, with the hope that the ideals of a Social Europe can win the day?