Lucy Anderson, MEP, warns of the dangers that leaving the EU would bring in the areas of employment, consumer and individual rights that are underpinned by, or derived from, EU law.
Of all the uncertainties that leaving the European Union would bring, one of the most critical is what would happen to employment, consumer and individual rights that are underpinned by, or derived from, EU law.
Since the 1970s, EU-level laws and decisions of the European Court of Justice have strengthened these rights: in some cases by extending existing UK law – such as to include the right to equal pay for work of equal value – in others by new legislation that has had a major impact, such as in the right to adequate time off, paid leave and limitation on working hours.
Many of the basic rights we rely on, exist in UK law only through acts or regulations that implement EU directives. If we leave the EU, these laws would have to be reviewed. Some would be immediately inapplicable and highly unlikely to be re-enacted by a Tory Government committed to deregulation. Newer rights, such as protection against discrimination for agency staff and older workers, seem particularly vulnerable.
The EU-level extension of workplace rights in the 1990s and 2000s brought huge benefits. The TUC estimated that 400,000 people benefited from equal treatment for part-time workers alone, and that 300,000 of those were low-paid women. Since Margaret Thatcher’s time, the Tories have campaigned against extending workplace rights for women and atypical workers, an area that is a clear example of where EU decisions have forced the hand of the UK government.
While some justified criticism can be made of the slowing down of the social agenda in Europe post-2004, there is much to be positive about over the next few years. After campaigns by Labour and its allies, the European Parliament is looking at improving rights for workers posted abroad who are exploited by employers. In addition, there is a push for a comprehensive European Accessibility Act to give added protection to disabled people.
The Left’s case for staying in the EU is increasingly clear and well set out. Of course we need to continue to fight for more solidarity and political progress, both here in the UK and internationally, but trades unions and all campaigners for fairness and social justice are increasingly united in urging a Vote to Remain on 23 June.