From the TUC

EU: Single Market, Equal Rights?

10 Feb 2012, by Guest in International

The EU has taken a lot of flak in recent years on the delicate subject of employment and social rights from the right – who call for the return of powers to London citing  increasing figures for the perceived costs to British industry – and from the left who see recent European Court of Justice decisions on the Posted Workers Directive and other matters as tilting the established balance of power in favour of employers rather than unions.

The new joint Foreign Policy Centre, TUC and EU Commission Representation in the UK pamphlet Single Market, Equal Rights? makes the case that as there is a framework of rules at a European level for capital, goods and services, the same should apply for labour. A common floor of minimum rights would provide consistency, facilitate the single market for labour and – perhaps most importantly – restrict opportunities for social dumping and a race to the bottom in employment rights.

Single Market, Equal Rights? points out that some of the grander claims about the costs of EU regulation rely on figures that under-represent the benefits of such rules and often focus on overstated costs to business alone rather than the impact on society as a whole. In any case the repatriation of employment rights (rather than modification at EU level) that is often argued for would be almost impossible to achieve without the UK leaving the EU and breaking its unfettered access to the single market. Advocates of repatriation on the left should think hard about whether the current Government, or indeed any of its recent predecessors, would give workers or unions a better deal.

Above all the EU needs to strike a fair balance between workers and businesses in the upcoming Monti II proposals and other measures it takes on employment rights, making clear that the needs of capital do not have priority over labour rights in the implementation of the Posted Workers Directive and other laws. If increasing flexibility is to be the mantra of Europe’s economic response to the crisis, it must mean greater flexibility for workers as well as employers so that valuable skills are kept in the labour market. However there must be a recognition that reducing workers’ security would have a chilling effect on demand. The EU’s approach is far from perfect, and directives don’t negate the need for national action, but building a common framework of fundamental protections for working people remains a critical reason to continue to engage with Brussels.

  • The FPC, TUC and EU Commission in the UK publication Single Market, Equal Rights? edited by FPC Policy Director Adam Hug and the TUC’s Owen Tudor is available to download, or for £4.95 from the Foreign Policy Centre.