Workers’ rights imperiled by Cameron’s Euro-phobia

Tory Euro-scepticism puts hard-earned workers’ rights at risks.

The issue of Europe continues to hang over the Tories like the dark clouds above Manchester, with the leadership refusing to be drawn on whether or not they will hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty were it to be ratified by all 27 member states by the time of the next election.

David Cameron, though failing to mention the subject in his opening day speech this afternooon, is fully aware of the importance to his party of Lisbon.

Today’s Guardian reports an eve-of-conference compromise between the Tory leader and hardline Euro-sceptics.

In exchange for not holding a referendum he will demand greater power over justice and home affairs – under Lisbon these are voted on under a system which gives no member state a veto – issue a warning to the European Union that a Tory government will adopt a hardline stance if its demands are not accepted, and repatriate social and employment powers to a national level.

It is this last point, the restoration of Britain’s opt out from the Social Chapter, that will have the greatest impact on British workers. Should it ever be implemented, the following rights currently enjoyed by United Kingdom workers risk being lost:

A minimum of 26 weeks maternity leave for women, and two weeks for men

• The Temporary Agency Workers directive which will ensure that 1.3 million workers for these agencies will be given pay and paid holidays comparable to the equivalent full-time employee doing the same job.

• The Transfer of Undertakings/Protection of Employment (TUPE) Directive, which ensures that workers retain basic employment, pension and seniority rights if their company is taken over

Equality between men and women in the labour market and at work

• Social security and social protection for workers

• Protection of workers where their employment contract is terminated

All of the above are the result of EU not domestic legislation. Withdrawal from the social chapter would require the agreement of all 26 other member states, potentially opening up the very question of Britain’s membership of the EU.

Additionally, the EU has protected British citizens with various health and safety directives, conditions of employment for third country nationals, the combating of social exclusion, the integration of people excluded from the labour and the Working Time Directive – which guarantees workers a minimum of four weeks annual leave, not including bank holidays.

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