Published on March 4th, 2016 | by frances


TUC publishes report on EU and workers’ rights

The TUC has just published a report setting out which workers’ rights in the UK are underpinned by EU rules, on top of which Kevin Rowan, Head of the TUC’s Organisation and Services Department, has also written a post for the TUC’s Touchstone blog focusing on the ‘many positive changes for workers in the UK [which] have happened directly as a result of EU membership’.

Employment and social rights for workers is clearly a major preoccupation for trade unions and it will feature heavily in our response to this whole debate. We have already published several pieces on eumatters, and from a range of different perspectives, including from Jane Copley on the implications of withdrawal for UK employment law; from Marion Scovell on What has Europe ever done for the workers?; and from John Stevenson on recent impacts of EU activity in the area of collective bargaining.

On top of this, the TUC has regularly directly commented on this issue in the months since May’s general election confirmed that a renegotiation, and a referendum, would be happening. You can find all its press releases on Europe here – and a fine collection they make. The TUC has done sterling work to keep the pressure on as regards workers’ rights and, in conjunction with our European counterparts, has indeed achieved substantial successes in getting the working time directive and the agency workers directive off the table during the renegotiation, given that they were very much on it during its early days.

It has achieved this, I think, by pushing a very simple, but very powerful, line: that trade union members in the UK are more than six million voters and that few of them are going to vote for a withdrawal should the reform being re-negotiated incorporate an undermining of their rights at work. No-one, indeed, falls in love with a common market. This is an extension of the similarly very simple message that European trade unionists have been pointing to – for Europe to work, it must be social; that economies, and globalisation, must be shaped so that they work in the interests of people, based on a high floor of social rights and skills.

A lot of our European trade union colleagues instinctively get this message, based as it is on notions of solidarity and a priority ordering within economic policy. So does the TUC – and so do Prospect members, too. The founders of the EU – and not all of them were socialists – declared it to be based on a ‘social market economy’ (Article 3, paragraph 3 of the Consolidated Texts of the EU Treaties). A social market economy – or the mixed economy – is one that combines a market-based approach to the production and supply of goods and services with social policy measures to guarantee social justice by tackling inequalities and regulating the market in the aim of full employment and social progress. Few among even the current generation of European political leaders naturally see social rights as being a barrier in need of cutting back. But I think that a lot of us in the UK – and certainly the political leaders in our government – don’t have the same instinctive grasp of this essential truth; many of our friends and neighbours, influenced by decades of the repeated mantras of liberalisation and competitiveness which have marked the approach of successive UK governments – of several colours and flavours – have forgotten not only what solidarity means, but also that alternative economic perspectives are possible.

In reminding us of the swathes of employment and social rights that have stemmed from Europe, the TUC is right in pointing us not only to the dangers of withdrawal from those protections, but also in reminding us that among the fundamental underpins to the European project are solidarity, a social market and social progress. As the dust begins to settle on the publication of the renegotiation package, and as the various campaigns begin to get underway, that’s an important message to hold in mind.



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