From the TUC

MEPs vote overwhelmingly for workers’ rights to be protected in Brexit deal

05 Apr 2017, by in International

The European Parliament decided today by an overwhelming 516 to 133 votes (nearly four to one) what it thought should be in the eventual EU-UK Brexit deal. And after lobbying from the European trade union movement, MEPs made it crystal clear that any future deal should be conditional on “continued adherence” by the UK to the EU social dimension. This is a major victory for the TUC’s campaign to make sure that working people’s existing rights at work are protected, and that we don’t fall behind our European neighbours if they get better rights in the future. And unlike the Prime Minister’s promises, MEPs are demanding guarantees, lasting longer than Theresa May’s premiership.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed the vote, saying:

“Workers’ rights must be at the heart of Britain’s deal with the EU. It must protect current rights, like paid holidays, equal pay, and fairness for agency workers. And it must guarantee a level playing field into the future, so working people in Britain don’t fall behind our European neighbours.

“The Prime Minister should welcome the European Parliament’s commitment to workers’ rights in the UK. It gives her a great opportunity to put into action her promise to protect and enhance working people’s rights.  A strong agreement on rights at work must be the starting point for negotiating a good deal that works for business and working people.”

The European Parliament is not formally engaged in the Brexit negotiations. But they do get a vote at the end of the negotiations on the final deal, and they could vote it down if it doesn’t meet their expectations, set out in today’s resolution. That means that, if they stay united (hence the importance of the huge majority in favour), they could have a major role in keeping both the UK and the EU’s negotiators’ feet to the fire.

This resolution will be at least as important in setting the tone for the negotiations on the EU side as the negotiating guidance which the Council adopts later this month, the draft of which was released by Michel Barnier on Friday. Indeed, the final form of that guidance could well be influenced by the European Parliament’s resolution.

The full text of the paragraph setting out the key expectations on workers’ rights (as well as rejecting tax competition, and deregulation of environmental controls) says:

“any future agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom is conditional on the United Kingdom’s continued adherence to the standards provided by international obligations, including human rights, and the Union’s legislation and policies, in, among others, the fields of the environment, climate change, the fight against tax evasion and avoidance, fair competition, trade and social rights, especially safeguards against social dumping;”

Like all European documents, this needs decoding, but it’s quite clear that ‘continued adherence’ means that part of the price of a deal allowing tariff-free, burden-free access to the single market is that UK workers will continue to benefit from the protections and rights set out in EU legislation. And ‘safeguards against social dumping’ means that the UK won’t be allowed to trade freely with the rest of Europe unless we agree not to undercut the rights of workers in the rest of Europe – meaning British working people will get rights at work at least as good as those in the European Union, now and in the future.

As Frances O’Grady says, this could be a win-win situation for Theresa May if she is only willing to face down the right-wing champions of deregulation in her party and her cabinet. It would mean good jobs and decent wages for working people in Britain and keeping respect and dignity in safe workplaces, with fairness for everyone.