Cameron playing with fire on workers’ rights
The TUC has been criticised for crying wolf over the Prime Minister’s plans to use the EU renegotiation phase of the referendum strategy to attack workers’ rights. But today’s media stories suggest we are spot on the money on both working time and temporary agency workers. The Prime Minister may think he is on to a winner with his eurosceptic backbenchers and opportunistic employers, but as our General Secretary has pointed out, he is playing with fire, and endangering the chances of winning the referendum vote.
The story, for those who haven’t seen it yet, is that Cameron wants to negotiate either a specific opt out for the UK from the Working Time Directive and Temporary Agency Workers Directive, or an even broader opt out from all European workers’ rights. We know that other options in play are revisions to those Directives at European level to reduce the rights workers across Europe get, a moratorium on any future social measures or even the wholesale repatriation of social measures from Brussels.
Downing Street have issued a non-denial of the story, and the fact that it was broken by the Brussels correspondents of the Telegraph and the Times (pay wall) suggests the source was a Tory MEP, leaking what he’s heard from Tory high command a bit earlier than planned (Cameron probably wanted to wait until close to the end of the negotiations before springing something that could endanger working class support for staying in the EU.) The fact that the Guardian, Independent and Daily Mail quickly followed up on their competitors indicates that there is more than a hint of truth to the story.
There are lots of problems with what the Conservatives are seeking – not least the impact it would have on the debates over migration, safety of patients being treated by exhausted junior doctors and work-life balance generally, but TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady responded:
“David Cameron’s latest EU negotiating demand says more about the internal politics of the Conservative Party than the interests of the country. But in seeking to appease his Eurosceptic cabinet members, Cameron is gambling with Britain’s future.
“Yet again, Cameron is seeking to load the dice against British workers, this time attacking their rights derived from the EU. British workers won’t vote to stay in a EU for big business that is stripped of workers’ rights. Attacking paid holidays and equal rights for agency workers will serve only to fuel ill feeling against free movement, as employers find it easier to hire migrant workers on worse pay and conditions.
“The Prime Minister should stop trying to paper over the cracks in his own party and start worrying about how to win the great mass of workers’ votes.”