Debating “What Does Europe do for me?” in Halifax

BCC3ymACQAEhJ2vI was pleased to be part of a panel at Halifax CLP that debated “What Does Europe do for me?” . As a full time trade union representative on the ground, I immediately had a couple of tangible examples of where Europe has improved people’s working rights.

I was joined on the panel by Linda McAvan MEP, and Richard Corbett, former MEP and member of the Cabinet of the President of the European Council. Familiar faces as we had all stood together on the list for Labour in the 2009 European Elections.

The debate came shortly after David Cameron’s much anticipated speech on Europe. Linda and Richard did an excellent job of highlighting the short-term, tactical approach of the speech that was not in Britain’s long-term interests.

I followed on by looking at specifically of the issue of worker’s rights and Europe, as David Cameron had made it very clear that these rights and health and safety were on his hit list for renegotiation.

In his speech he attacked the working time directive,  saying that Europe shouldn’t have a say in how long our doctors work. Well I’m sorry, but I do not want a doctor seeing me after he has just done a double shift, and already worked 60hours that week!

This directive is just one European rule I see in practice every day. It gives workers at least 1 day off, 4 weeks paid holiday, 11 hours rest from work each day, and a 20 minute break if you work more than 6 hours. It also means you should not work more than 48 hours a week (if you don’t want to) and this is where employees can sign the opt-out and work more than that. These all sound basic rights but trade unions frequently find exploited workers who don’t even get these basic rights.

Most people will take these rights in work for granted, as good employers will go above and beyond that and staff have no need to call on these basic rights. Other employers will squeeze as much as they can out of employees. It’s common in low-paid work to find that your job depends on opt-outs, or that due to short staffing you have to work more.

That’s why we often find the good employers agreeing with the trade unions, to stamp out this bad practice, get rules we can all agree to and ensure bad employers can’t undercut them.

It prevents ‘social dumping’ – the move of investment to countries with lower standards. Cameron may want us to be the social dumping ground of Europe but that is something we should not accept. To quote the late Robin Cook, it’s about basic human decency, “We do not accept that the British people should be second-class citizens with less rights than employees on the continent.”

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