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EU states should say no to Cameron

Thursday, June 18, 2015

GMB to call on EU states to say no to Tory and CBI demands for changes in working time and agency workers laws as part of EU re-negotiation.

UK employers want no limit on how many hours per week workers can be asked to work and that they be free to pay agency works much less than direct workers says GMB.

GMB is preparing to call on other EU member states not to accede to the Tory/ CBI demand to get rid of parts of the Working Time Directive and of the Agency Workers Directive in the UK as part of David Cameron’s renegotiation of the UK relationship with the EU.

John Cridland, CBI Director General, confirmed in the Financial Times on 17 June 2015 that business wants to be able to permanently opt out of the maximum 48 hour working week over a cycle and  to change the 2008 directive that compels employers to give temporary agency workers the same pay and conditions as permanent employees after 12 weeks.

Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary, said “GMB is planning to call on EU member states not to accede to demands from UK employers that there should be no limit on how many hours per week workers can be asked to work and that they should be free to pay agency workers much less than direct workers.

Workers in the UK want the rights in The Working Time Directive to stay. That is the right to a minimum 28 day of paid holidays each year, a 20 minute rest breaks after 6 hours work, rest of at least 11 hours in any 24 hours; restricts excessive night work; 24 hours off after seven day of work; and provides for a right to work no more than 48 hours per week over a cycle.

The Working Time Directive is not “red tape” as the CBI assert. It was brought in as excessive hours were identified as the direct cause of the Clapham Junction rail disaster where 35 people died and 500 people were injured on 12 December 1988.

The collision was caused by a signal failure due to a wiring fault. An Independent inquiry, chaired by Anthony Hidden, QC, found that the signalling technician responsible had worked a seven-day week for the previous thirteen weeks.

The Agency Workers Directive provide that basic employment and working conditions for temporary and  agency workers – after they have been there for 12 weeks-  should be equal to those of a directly employed worker doing the same job in the firm they work in.

The aim of this, and the other EU legislation the CBI want to get rid of, is to prevent unfair competition between different member states and to stop a race to the bottom on rights at work.

The CBI need to face up to the concerns a large part of the electorate have over more fundamental problems about Europe. Whatever the European vision was on integration, harmony, economic advancement and political stability, what we currently have isn’t it.

The free movement of labour and the single market were to be balanced by the social charter where all the people of Europe would live in freedom and with those in the poorer economies, benefitting from the harmonisation of standards across all member states. There were to be standards on workers protection, TUPE, excessive hours, health & safety, information and consultation and so many others were meant to keep labour exploitation and undermining of condition in check.

That dream has been chipped away at for years. Right wing governments and employer have engineered massive change in the direction of the EU vision.

Across the length and breath of the land people know that there is undercutting of wages and conditions by employers exploiting agency labour recruited from poorer areas of Europe.

On Teesside, for example, an employer paying £5 per hour below agreed rates for construction workers insists that 1 in 10 of the predominately migrant workforce who speaks English is identified by a sticker on their hard hats.

Reforms are badly needed to stop this exploitation.

If what David Cameron brings back from the re-negotiations tilts the balance even further away from standards for workers, as the CBI wants, many organizations traditionally in favour will campaign for a No vote.”

End

Contact: Kathleen Walker Shaw GMB EU officer 07841 181549 or GMB political officers Cath Speight 07506 711 925 or Lisa Johnson 07900 392 228 or Gary Doolan 07590 262504  or GMB press office 07921 289880 or 07974 251 823

Notes to editors

Copy of article in FT dated 17th June:

Trade unions say ‘no guarantees’ of support in EU referendum

Alex Barker, Jim Pickard and Sarah O’Connor

UK trade unions are threatening to abandon the cause of EU membership during the forthcoming referendum campaign, in a warning to David Cameron over his attempt to roll back social and employment rights first secured in Brussels.

After a long stint as one of the most pro-EU voices in British politics, union leaders say Mr Cameron could reawaken opposition to the “rich man’s club” seen in parts of the labour movement during the 1975 referendum.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, told the Financial Times the movement would find it “harder and harder to hold the line” if the prime minister breaks the EU bargain of a common market backed by stronger work rights.

“Those who are expecting the trade union movement to bang the drum for Europe should think very hard about whether they can in all good faith make that request and then attack our rights by the back door,” she added. “It is not a convincing sell.”

Dave Prentis the general secretary of Unison, said the Yes camp could not take Unison’s support for granted. “There are no guarantees,” he said. Paul Kenny of the GMB has previously warned that if rights are scaled back “many organisations traditionally in favour will campaign for a No vote”.

All three union leaders fear Mr Cameron will attempt to dilute workers’ rights, through reforms or opt-outs from directives on working hours and agency staff. In addition, Ms O’Grady is worried Mr Cameron may seek a moratorium — or British opt-out — on future EU social policy.

“How do we say to our 1.4m members that you should be voting for a worsening of workers’ rights, not only in Europe but in our country?” Mr Prentis said.

How do we say to our 1.4m members that you should be voting for a worsening of workers’ rights, not only in Europe but in our country?

- Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison

During his round of initial meetings with European leaders, Mr Cameron has specifically raised the working time directive — a highly contentious directive under review in Brussels.

Business wants the government to resolve “once and for all” any uncertainty about the UK’s right to opt out of working time requirements.

“There’s been a constant drive in Europe to take the opt-out out of the directive,” said John Cridland, director-general of the CBI employers’ group, noting the EU legislation is decided by majority. “That’s why it’s important to tackle this in the renegotiation, we’ve got a blocking minority holding on to that opt-out, and I don’t want to live from hand to mouth, I want that resolved.”

“Eighteen countries use the opt-out yet we’re the one on the naughty step, so take us off the naughty step please,” he said.

Union barons such as Jack Jones and Hugh Scanlon campaigned for a No vote in 1975. But the movement was eventually won around to Brussels, in no small part thanks to a barnstorming speech by Jacques Delors, the former European Commission president, to a TUC conference in Bournemouth in 1988.

Britain’s biggest public sector union has vowed to fight the Conservative government’s “vicious and vindictive” strike laws in parliament and the European courts. Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, said the union would build alliances with civil liberties advocates to resist the “anti-democratic” legislation, which would set a 50 per cent turnout threshold for strike ballots and a higher bar for strikes that affect public services.

Today unions bring deep pockets and a valuable grassroots campaign network that would be prized by the Yes campaign. However, it is far from clear that the movement will offer full-throated support, even if it does decide to oppose Brexit.

Andy Burnham, a contender for the Labour party leadership, has argued that his party should not take part in the cross-party Yes campaign to stay in Europe because of the reputational damage of working closely with big business and — probably — the Tories.

Mr Prentis said that Labour had lost seats in Scotland because of its participation in the anti-independence “Better Together” campaign, which made it look like part of the establishment.

“Where people had an alternative, which wasn’t seen as part of the establishment, they voted for them,” he said. “There are big dangers for Labour in going into a coalition with the Tories on the EU referendum.”

Emphasising the likelihood of more “distinctive voices” in the referendum campaign, Ms O’Grady said: “I don’t think it will be Better Together the sequel.”

Given big business will play a frontline role in any Yes campaign, Ms O’Grady urged chief executives to “see the bigger picture”. “If they want Britain to stay in the EU?.?.?.?then concentrate on that,” she said. “Don’t try and attack workers’ rights by the backdoor because it will backfire.”

The CBI’s Mr Cridland said he did not want to “go backwards on employment standards” such as discrimination and holiday pay, but he did want to change the 2008 directive that compels employers to give temporary agency workers the same pay and conditions as permanent employees after 12 weeks.

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