One of the mainstream media’s leading cheerleaders for Britain remaining in the European Union (EU) has admitted that the outcome of the referendum will have little effect on UK workers’ rights.
Workers have been warned that leaving the EU would jeopardise a whole raft of rights that pro-Remain campaigners from the left of politics tell them have been granted and guaranteed by membership of the politico-trading bloc.
For example, the General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) — Frances O’Grady (pictured) — recently stated:
“Working people have a huge stake in the referendum because workers’ rights are on the line. It’s the EU that guarantees workers their rights to paid holidays, parental leave, equal treatment for part-timers, and much more.
“These rights can’t be taken for granted. There are no guarantees that any government will keep them if the UK leaves the EU. And without the back-up of EU laws, unscrupulous employers will have free rein to cut many of their workers’ hard-won benefits and protections.”
Such scaremongering, aimed at giving the impression UK workplace rights would change significantly in the event of Brexit, has proved to be too much for even the self-identified pro-European newspaper, the Financial Times.
A report on workers’ rights and Brexit in the Financial Times explains why the warnings from the pro-Remain TUC are baseless, saying:
For a start, the EU is not responsible for as many employment rights as you might think. The UK implemented the Equal Pay Act in 1970, before it even joined the EU. It already had sex and race discrimination laws too, according to the TUC, while its maternity leave exceeded the EU minimum of 14 weeks when that directive came in.
It is true that the EU has strengthened, expanded and updated these rights over the decades. It has also added new ones, such as the right to holiday pay, unpaid parental leave and equal treatment for part-time workers. Yet two of the biggest EU directives — the maximum 48-hour week and the agency workers’ regulations — contained big loopholes or opt-outs for UK employers.
The article goes on to point out that despite its membership Britain is the least regulated workplace in the EU and comes in at 31 out of an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development compiled list of 34 rich countries based on ‘Indicators of Employment Protection’.
In any case, the author says she finds it “hard to imagine any government going into the 2020 election with “bring back sexism in the workplace” or “let’s have fewer paid holidays” on their leaflets.”
What’s more, none of the most complained about employment policies in the UK — the new higher minimum wage; the ‘apprenticeship levy’ payroll tax; restrictions on skilled migrant workers; and the requirement for large companies to publish their gender pay gaps — were EU impositions, instead they were “dreamt up by the current Conservative government”.
The Financial Times concludes that whatever the main arguments are in the referendum debate, the “impact on employment rights is a sideshow”.