Union leaders warn over EU reform negotiations

25 June 2015 The GMB has warned that trade unions will push for Britain to quit the EU if member states allow Cameron to weaken workers’ rights as part of his “reform” package, in a letter to European leaders.

25 Jun 2015| News

25 June 2015

The GMB has warned that trade unions will push for Britain to quit the EU if member states allow Cameron to weaken workers’ rights as part of his “reform” package, in a letter to European leaders.

The GMB is the UK’s third largest union, with more than 631,000 members, and is one of the Labour party’s biggest donors.

Cameron has not yet revealed what his reforms to Britain’s EU membership will look like, but has discussed the changes with 20 EU leaders ahead of the in/out referendum.

However, Downing Street has said Cameron wants a reduction in red tape; a euphemism for the decimation of employment rights.

A poll published last month showed that British people are more likely to want to stay in the EU if it means better employment rights and pay. Only one in four wanted to see the EU do more to “cut red tape” on business.

Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the GMB, writes in the letter: “British workers are already less well protected than many of their counterparts across the EU, and we urge EU governments and institutions not to allow further erosion of this situation.

“Any undermining of these rights would not only be detrimental to British workers but would create unfair competition for other EU member states based on a race to the bottom, which I am sure you will agree is not the way to go.

“I write to you today, because I, and many of my colleagues in the British trade union movement, want negotiators to understand that if the EU Commission and member state governments allow Mr Cameron and his government in the course of the reform negotiations to undermine employment and social rights and their application to British workers, then there is a serious risk that many organisations traditionally in favour of the EU will campaign for a no vote.

“This is neither bluff nor threat, but rather a statement of fact. I am sure you will appreciate how difficult it would be for me to encourage my members to vote for a worsening of their rights and protections which we have fought so hard over so many years to achieve.”

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, has also written an open letter, ahead of the EU Leaders’ Summit.

She writes; “We believe that working people deserve some straight answers on the nature of the renegotiation. We respectfully request that you publicly confirm or deny that you are seeking to worsen existing rights and, at a time when casual employment such as zero-hours working is spreading across Europe, prevent the introduction of new ones that would protect workers against exploitation.”

“Don’t take working people for granted by demanding opt outs from the workplace rights that Europe has delivered. British workers are already some of the least protected workers in Europe, well behind more successful economies like Austria, Germany and Sweden. But British workers do value the protections that they have. Our polling evidence shows that if you take rights away, working people are less likely to vote to stay in the EU.”

“Far from being ‘red tape’ holding British business back, measures like the Working Time Directive and the Temporary Agency Workers Directive provide equal treatment and reduce the tensions and divisions in communities and workplaces affected by migration.”

“Such protections also help create a more modern economy, which is why calls for a moratorium on workplace rights are at best misplaced. People’s rights at work need to keep evolving to meet new challenges and stay relevant to people’s working lives.”

“If working people are presented with the prospect of staying in a European Union stripped of workplace rights, they may well vote to leave.”

Even the Queen has weighed in against Cameron, saying “division in Europe is dangerous” earlier this week.