The EU at work

European Union flag

This week a lot of voices have reminded us how critical Britain’s membership of the European Union is to the future of the British economy and our ability to attract international investment with the jobs that that brings. This is absolutely true and we must keep on highlighting it, but we may win more hearts and minds to the cause of the EU by focusing on the quality of those jobs and how that affects our daily lives rather than where they come from.

Britain’s membership of the EU has meant that British workers have benefitted from real protections in the workplace directly as a result of being part of Europe. The European working time directive enshrines the right for four weeks’ paid holiday a year. Many of women’s rights to protection in maternity and rights for parents to take time off to care for children stem from European directives. And our rights to be consulted in the case of a proposed redundancy and not to be discriminated against in the workplace also stem in large part from the EU.

Now, Labour governments have usually brought in better rights and protections than the minimum required by European laws but it is equally the case that Conservative governments have always been determined to take away those protections whenever they can. We just need to look at their proposals to put workplace rights up for sale in return for as little as £2,000 of shares and to slash the consultation period for redundancies – both proposals based on Adrian Beecroft’s back-of-a fag-packet report, rather than the needs and realities of the modern workplace.

And European employment protection contributes to wider social benefits also. If the UK had acted sooner on Europe’s agency workers directive, that might have helped alleviate some of the tensions around immigration which we have seen.

In looking at what needs to be reformed in the EU, the main challenge lies in the future. With the eurozone countries inevitably moving towards closer political integration, there is a real risk that the voices of those of us outside the euro will not be heard in a future EU, unless we reform how it works.

David Cameron’s grandstanding and hints of a future outside the EU have weakened the UK’s position in Europe even further at a time when a responsible government would be leading a discussion in the UK on how we want Britain’s interests in a future Europe to be protected. It isn’t clear how the integration of the eurozone will ultimately impact decision-making in EU institutions but we need to be doing more to influence that debate. There are going to be treaty changes and the task for Britain is to make sure that the reforms protect the interests of those of us outside the eurozone and preserve Britain’s capacity to lead in Europe.

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Jeremy Miles is a member of Progress  and tweets @Jeremy_Miles

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Photo: Rock Cohen

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