The Treaty of the European Union in 2008 confirmed that the EU is a community of values and one of its core objectives is to promote the well-being of its people.
EU laws extended many existing UK laws in the area of equal pay, maternity rights, disability and race discrimination, as well as Health and Safety. The UK resisted many of these changes, notably equal treatment for agency workers, working time limits, and the requirement for workers to be consulted on changes in the workplace that could affect them.
UK employees now have the rights to:
- Written statements of terms and conditions
- Working Time Directive (including the maximum 48-hour week unless they opt out; paid annual leave)
- Protection for new and expectant mothers
- Equal Pay (although this became law in the UK in 1970 it had the glaring omission of equal pay for work of equal value)
- Anti-discrimination (the EU Framework Equal Treatment Directive of 2000 extended legislation against discrimination on the basis of age, religion and sexual orientation)
- Collective Bargaining (By remaining in the EU, UK unions retain the ability to participate in and shape negotiations at EU level)
- Health and Safety (although legislation in the UK established the basis of H&S law, later EU directives required the UK government to amend existing laws. Specific workplace risks were identified and covered by law: musculoskeletal disorders, noise, working at height, protection for new and expectant mothers, young people and temporary workers. 41 of 65 new regulations introduced between 1997 and 2009 originated in the EU)
The report concludes:
Given these benefits, we conclude that EU membership continues to deliver wide-ranging protections to UK workers….remaining in the EU may provide significant opportunities to extend employment protection for working people.
Should Britain exit the European Union, the right-wing politicians who are supporting this strategy would have no compunction in tearing up these hard-won rights and move Britain towards a U.S.-style hire-and-fire employment culture. In an article in The Guardian on 20/2/13, James Walsh wrote of the
cultural differences between French and American working practices, highlighting the very different attitudes to workers’ rights between the two countries. Only 11.3% of American workers belong to a union, a 97 year low, in a country that has seen a gradual erosion of workers’ rights over the past few decades, as the economy has shifted toward part-time and temporary – and frequently low-wage – jobs.
In addition, the US is the only industrialised country in the world that does not have statutory requirements on employers to provide paid holiday, with the average American enjoying a mere two weeks off a year. A quarter of the population have no paid holiday at all. France, in line with many European countries, stipulates a statutory holiday entitlement of 25 days per year.