So that’s what repatriation from Brussels means…
Ever since David Cameron made his speech in January promising a referendum on British membership of the EU after he’d renegotiated the relationship to repatriate certain rights from Brussels to Westminster, we’ve been trying to find out what that repatriation would mean for working people.
We’re pretty sure that the Prime Minister doesn’t want control of workers’ rights so that he can improve them. But whenever we worry publicly that repatriation would mean taking away something specific, like the rights to paid holidays, or equal treatment for part-time workers, or health and safety, we’re told not to worry. That (whatever ‘that’ is) won’t be affected.
Well, last week, the self-described ‘independent’ (which, misleadingly, doesn’t stop it being right-wing) think tank Civitas published a helpful report on what might be repatriated and how. They devoted a whole chapter to employment rights, and guess which ones they want repatriated? Yup – all of them!
They identify just a handful of sections of the the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) that should be repatriated. Specifically, articles 151-161. These cover:
(a) improvement in particular of the working environment to protect workers’ health and safety;
(b) working conditions;
(c) social security and social protection of workers;
(d) protection of workers where their employment contract is terminated;
(e) the information and consultation of workers;
(f) representation and collective defence of the interests of workers and employers, including co-determination, subject to paragraph 5;
(g) conditions of employment for third-country nationals legally residing in Union territory;
(h) the integration of persons excluded from the labour market, without prejudice to Article 166;
(i) equality between men and women with regard to labour market opportunities and treatment at work;
(j) the combating of social exclusion;
(k) the modernisation of social protection systems without prejudice to point (c).
Would there be anything left of the European Social Model? Hang on, there’s more, because that’s just Article 151! Civitas also want to take back control of equal pay (the oldest social right in the EU – part of the original Treaty of Rome, so no one can claim they didn’t know that was part of the Common Market when we joined!) And social dialogue. And vocational training and qualifications. And… and….. and…
This is all justified with highly tendentious figures about the ‘costs’ to business of such European regulations (saner employer voices admit the main cost of social Europe is all those paid holidays that Prime Minister Cameron seems awfully keen on for himself – and, of course, one of the rights he wouldn’t dream of touching…) without mentioning that while some costs fall on employers, other people get quite a lot out of these measures. That isn’t just the workers who directly benefit, but people like taxpayers who don’t have to pay so much for the NHS to tackle workplace injuries and diseases, for example.
And Civitas naively (I’m being really generous here) claim that while repatriating these rights might mean Conservative governments slash them, it could just as easily mean a Labour government improves on them. Except of course that any government can improve on these rights already – they’re generally minimum rights (except things like equal pay: some people really can’t be more equal than others!) So there really isn’t much in repatriation for working people.
Elsewhere in their report, Civitas set out the case for repatriating so many other elements of the European Union (justice, trade, that sort of thing) that it really does look as if some people are only just about willing to countenance remaining part of the European continent!