Boris threatens EU protection for workers’ rights

The EU may not be perfect, but is the only protection some of our workers' rights have.

Commentary icon5 Dec 2012|Comment

05 December 2012

By Roger Jeary

The EU may not be perfect, but we should not allow the Conservative Party to drive skeptics toward abolishing the only protection some of our workers’ rights have.

Boris Johnson’s speech to a business audience today (04 December 2012) may be described in the press as another swipe at Cameron on Europe in his undisguised bid to become leader of the Conservative Party. But its content is more easily described as yet another attack on workers’ rights and trade unions.

Within his ramblings, Boris stated: “We should use the opportunity of the treaty changes – perhaps over the banking union – to convene an inter-governmental conference in which we bring Britain’s membership in line with what people want. Boil it down to the single market. Scrap the Social Chapter. Scrap the fisheries policy…”

That reference to the Social Chapter will certainly appeal to the business community and the furthest right of the Conservative Party. The Social Chapter – born out of the social charter which in 1989 the previous Conservative government refused to sign up to – is the means through which the social policy of the EU has been developed. It has also been the means through which those limited developments in UK employment legislation over the past 15 years have been promulgated. It is a chapter of the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam covering social policy issues in European Union law. The aims of the Agreement on Social Policy are:

“[The] promotion of employment, improving living and working conditions, proper social protection, dialogue between management and labour, the development of human resources with a view to lasting high employment and the combating of exclusion.”

The European Union has undertaken policy initiatives over the past 15 years in various social policy areas, including labour and industry relations, equal opportunity, health and safety, public health, protection of children, the disabled and elderly, poverty, migrant workers, education, training and youth. In fact, much of what was developed under the heading of Family Friendly Policies during the Blair/Brown Governments came as a result of the social policy set by the EU under this agreement. The only legislative protection we have now against the attacks on redundancy, working time and TUPE is to rely upon the European directives from which the UK Legislation was developed.

So Boris has added his voice to the sirens of the right that we hear in the Commons on a regular basis, attacking trade union and worker rights directly and indirectly through their questions to ministers. His demand for a “trading agreement” with Europe, excluding the limited social rights which our agreements currently provide, would take us down the road of so many other international trade agreements where workers’ rights and human rights generally do not form any part of the agreement and where the results for workers in developing nations are all too clear to see.

Whilst not the most enthusiastic voice for the EU, I do at least recognise that given the current political status of the parties likely to govern the UK in the foreseeable future, membership of the EU does provide a backstop against the worst excesses of our own administrations when it comes to workers’ rights.

Support the IER and receive free employment law publications and reduced entrance fees to our employment law seminars and conferences by subscribing to the IER.

Roger Jeary

Roger Jeary Roger Jeary retired from Unite in January 2012 after 33 year’s service as a negotiating officer and Director of Research. Roger worked in Northern Ireland, Manchester and London as an official of the union starting with ASTMS and then MSF and AMICUS before the final merger to Unite. In 2004 he was appointed Director of Research of Amicus and subsequently took on that role for Unite in 2007. Roger is a member of the Institute’s Publications Sub Committee. Currently Roger is a Trustee Director of FairPensions, an independent member of the ACAS Panel of Arbitrators, sits on the Advisory Panel of the IPA and is a member of the Manufacturing Policy Panel of the Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET).