From the TUC

Cameron’s renegotiation deal: tinkering, not tackling the real issues

03 Feb 2016, by in International

There’s a lot of noise today about the proposals that European Council President Donald Tusk has sent to European leaders to address David Cameron’s call for a reformed European Union ahead of the UK’s referendum on EU membership. Eurosceptics are hostile, supporters of remaining in the EU just want to get on with the referendum campaign. There’s a crucial voice missing from the debate, though, and it’s the voice of British workers.

The most contentious debate around the renegotiation proposals is on in-work benefits for EU migrants, and Rosa has already blogged about how Cameron’s proposals miss the point. That pretty much sums up our response to the rest of yesterday’s announcement, too. The changes proposed are simply not what British workers – or any workers across the European Union, as the European Trade Union Confederation made clear – need.

As the ETUC set out at its Congress last September, the main issues facing workers across the EU are sustainable growth providing decent jobs, a pay rise and a greater say at the workplace, and modernised rights at work that address the challenges of a fast-changing labour market. These were also highlighted when the TUC Congress debated the issue of the forthcoming referendum at our Congress just days before, when we said:

“The TUC will continue to advocate a positive vision of a people’s Europe and reforms that would promote investment for sustainable growth, decent work with good wages and a greater say for people at work. Investment in public infrastructure like social housing, transport, telecommunications and energy efficiency could create 11 million highly skilled and well-paid jobs across Europe. Europe needs a pay rise and an adequate floor of enforceable minimum wages to protect the most vulnerable.”

These are the issues that our Prime Minister should have been raising with colleagues at the February European Council meeting. Instead, there will be cosmetic changes on ‘ever-closer-union’ and adopting the Euro (neither of which actually changes the current position, which is that the UK is opted out. There will be measures – such as the ‘red card’ system – that will make it more difficult in practice for the EU to tackle the challenges it faces (such as slow to no growth, increasing insecurity of employment, the refugee crisis and climate change), and some clarification that national security is a national matter.

Other European governments seem to have fought off George Osborne’s attempts to give the City of London a veto over decisions made in the Eurozone (although everyone is in furious agreement that decisions made by Eurozone countries should not damage non-Eurozone economies), but there are worrying signs that – exactly as now – the mantra that deregulation creates growth will be continued.

It is good news that the proposals do not include any attack on workers’ rights, and that’s further evidence that the trade union campaign to prevent Britain opting out of workplace protections, or imposing a moratorium on the development of future rights has been successful. We were clearly right to get in early with our opposition to such changes, which persuaded employers’ organisations to drop their demands for such measures. And our European trade union colleagues did a great job persuading their governments to make clear to Cameron that such changes were non-negotiable.

As Frances O’Grady said yesterday:

“It’s good that the Prime Minister listened to trade unions and stopped trying to negotiate away workers’ rights this time. But the proposed ‘red card’ would just be another way for him to try and stop people in Britain getting better rights and protections at work from future EU agreements.”

We will still have to fight against deregulation, including the infamous REFIT agenda, but that’s been an ongoing campaign for us and the ETUC. And we can use the forthcoming referendum campaign to remind people of the rights that have been secured from the European Union, and the improvements and new measures that will be needed to restore workers’ support for membership of the EU.