I missed this Open Europe poll when it came out at the end of May, but it demonstrates a fascinating contrast with the latest contribution from Andrea Leadsom MP about the need to seize back control over employment rights from the European Union.
Ms Leadsom argues that Europe needs ‘reform’ to tackle the problems caused by the Global Financial Crisis (that’s not how she puts it, of course – she’s one of the bank-crisis deniers who maintains that anything but the actions of the finance sector caused the crisis.) And the first issue she raises is employment rights – principally the Working Time Directive which has caused (sic) so many problems for the NHS. Maybe she means problems like people living on and taking up bed space where previously a sleep-deprived junior doctor would have finished them off…
But, as the Open Europe poll demonstrates, when people are asked what powers they would like repatriated from the EU, fewer than one in five lists employment regulation in their top four. That’s just 19%, in a poll where 26% described themselves as Conservatives and 20% as UKIP supporters. Health and safety scored even lower, with just 15%. They were 6th and 8th on the list of 15 powers that Open Europe’s pollsters suggested.
It’s worth ramming home just what that poll finding means. This wasn’t a poll where people were just asked to volunteer the powers they thought should be repatriated from Brussels. People were prompted with 15 possible powers, including “voting safeguards for countries outside the Single Currency” which got just 7%. But even when encouraged to plump for workers’ rights to be repatriated, less than half the supporters of the Conservatives and UKIP put together actually put workers’ rights in the top four priorities. Remember, Andrea Leadsom MP put it first.
She even had the gall to suggest that such rights have led to mass youth unemployment in countries like Greece and Spain. Far from it: in the countries with solid workers’ rights like Austria and Germany, youth unemployment has actually been falling. Maybe it’s the extreme austerity policies forced on the Governments concerned?
Anyway, the poll findings reinforce what the TUC has consistently argued. The call for workers’ rights to be repatriated – and we know it isn’t to take the opportunity to make them better! – is a minority interest even on the right of British politics. And despite the claim that it is a big issue for business, CBI chief John Cridland managed an entire Daily Telegraph column on the needs of medium-sized British business this week without even mentioning the issue. He identified access to long-term investment finance as ‘one of the biggest bugbears’ and that sounds about right to me.
We need to make people more aware what ‘repatriation’ of rights would mean, and how little support there is for it outside of the Europhobic right.