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Are yEUr rights protected? Workers’ rights and the EU

Following the EU referendum and ahead of our July event with Unite the Union, ‘United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?‘, Jasmin Kirkbride summarises current workers’ rights and how they may be affected if the UK votes Leave. 

It has become fashionable to grumble about ‘EU Red Tape’. However, on closer inspection, these laws that we so easily complain about offer huge protection for workers across the UK.

Rights the EU enforces and protects

Amongst other things, EU law ensures that our government must give workers paid holidays, rights for new mothers, 18 weeks of parental leave, limits on how long we can be forced to work, protection from discrimination against religion, belief, gender assignment, sexuality, age and race.

Certain rights that seem like no-brainers now were only put in place because of the EU: for example, the law saying that if your company is sold, you are entitled to the same pay and conditions as before. The EU also ensures that if any major changes are coming up in a company, union representatives and employee forums must be informed.

Some of these laws look after us day-to-day, others you might not necessarily notice until the going gets tough. But they are there to protect us hail, rain or shine.

How leaving affects the law

The Leave camp has argued many times that these laws will continue to exist if Britain leaves the EU. While this may be true in the short term, and our rights would not disappear overnight, the future is less certain.

The UK government has not always welcomed EU directives protecting the worker. There were bitter complaints against the law stating that part-time workers should have the same rights as full-time workers, for instance. If we left the EU, the government could very easily chip away at or scrap laws like these that are currently crucial to the worker. You may think this seems unlikely but, outside the EU, governments regularly curtail workers’ rights: in America for example, workers are legally entitled to no annual leave at all.

Already, the UK government is not exceptionally benevolent to workers, particularly not under Conservative leadership. Conservative minister Michael Gove has said, “membership of the EU prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law” as a reason to leave. The idea that these changes would not include workers’ rights is naïve at best. Worse, current government estimates say that around 820,000 jobs are likely to be lost in the UK if we leave the EU: not a good start to renegotiations.

Other Leave camp arguments have included the idea that the EU no longer has anything to offer the worker in terms of employment rights. However this seems to be untrue as, amongst other items on the agenda, campaigners from the EU are currently trying to tackle the dreaded zero-hours contract.

Who do you trust?

Ultimately, the decision is based on who you trust to look after your rights as a worker.

With controversial issues like TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) coming to the fore, we cannot pretend that the EU is not in need of reform. We cannot rest on our laurels and assume that remaining in the EU will automatically protect our rights and our future.

But over the years, the EU has proven to offer a strong, consistent layer of protection from the whims of UK governments on a four-year turnover. That protection is something we should not overlook.

Join us for United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?‘ on the 14th July. Early bird ticket sales end 30th June (£8, instead of £15).

unite

Publishing on the move: unions and the EU referendum

This is a guest post by Douglas Williamson on EU referendum, unions and publishing. Douglas is design manager at Macmillan ELT. He started his career at Butterworth Law Publishers and since then has worked for Longman, HarperCollins and Heinemann Education. He has been a union member from the start, and has just retired from the Unite National Committee for the Graphical, Paper, Media and IT industries.

From where I’m sitting in the London office of my German-owned employer, I can see around me two colleagues from Greece, one from Italy and another from Spain. I’m on a project team where the production controller is Slovakian, the managing editor is Irish and the marketing executive is Polish. Our online English dictionary is managed from Brussels by a Hungarian. Nigel Farage and friends will be disappointed to know that none of them are undermining my terms and conditions, and most of them have joined Unite or the NUJ to help defend employment standards.

As far as the EU referendum is concerned, we ordinary workers will have difficulty verifying the claims and counter-claims of the Stay and Leave campaigns, so our votes might come down to a straightforward affirmation of solidarity with our EU colleagues, and a repudiation of the xenophobia that seems never far below the surface of the Leave case.

The leavers want to repatriate powers from Brussels. You can be sure that high on their target list will be the EU employment protection measures transposed into UK law, such as the Information & Consultation of Employees Regulations, the Working Time Directive, and the Agency Workers Regulations, not to mention environmental protections affecting health and safety at work – ironic, really, when you think that one of the main arguments of the leavers is that EU migrants are a threat to UK employment standards. If we leave, Messrs Gove, Johnson and Grayling will give us better workers’ rights, will they?

Unite the Union is backing continued UK membership of the EU to protect jobs, employment rights and the concept of the social market. But that doesn’t mean unqualified support: Unite, in common with the rest of the trade-union movement and many civil society organisations, is opposed to trade agreements such as CETA and TTIP, currently being negotiated between the EU, Canada and the United States behind closed doors. However, we can only exert influence from within the EU.

The EU finances research into the future prospects of the various industrial sectors, including publishing. Two years ago, using EU funding, the International Federation of Graphical Unions produced a report on the impact of digital publishing on printed media in Europe, entitled ‘Publishing on the move, followed up by an EU-wide conference of worker representatives in the graphical and media industry to plan for an orderly transition between technologies. Unite played a big part in that initiative, and that’s the way we want it to stay.

For more information on trade unionism and publishing, read this brief introduction.

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