Attempts to undermine the employment rights of working people in the face of massive austerity could lead to the European Union losing the support of its citizens, the TUC and Foreign Policy Centre (FPC) will tell the EU Commissioner for Employment and …

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Attempts to undermine the employment rights of working people in the face of massive austerity could lead to the European Union losing the support of its citizens, the TUC and Foreign Policy Centre (FPC) will tell the EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs Laszlo Andor today at an event to launch a new joint pamphlet.

The Commissioner will be told that the European Commission needs to strike a fair balance between business and unions over how far Europe should decide national industrial relations laws.

The pamphlet Single Market, Equal Rights? – a series of essays by academics, trade unionists and business representatives – includes the argument that recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) cases and the eurozone crisis have left the single market unbalanced, with common laws and systems for business, but inconsistent rules on workers’ rights.

This situation is allowing employers to drive wages and working conditions down rather than pull the standards of poorer countries up to the level of the richest, the pamphlet editors say.

Single Market, Equal Rights? says that this imbalance has left unions and the workers they represent questioning the value of the European Union. It has led the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) to oppose the new treaty being proposed by Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy, increased tension between the UK and EU, and strengthened eurosceptic calls for the repatriation of powers from Brussels to Westminster.

The pamphlet editors argue that despite significant challenges at an EU level, attempting to take back powers on employment and social rights to the UK would be the wrong move. Not only are the costs of such laws overstated and benefits overlooked, but the UK would be unable to pull out of these laws without leaving the EU. Outside the EU, Britain would be isolated, impotent and still forced to do what the rest of Europe decides but without any say.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “If ordinary Europeans feel that the EU is about little more than open markets, tight controls on public spending and privatisation, then support for European integration will collapse just as surely as night follows day. A Europe without a strong social dimension is doomed to fail.

“Europe has historically balanced the interests of free trade and open markets with those of workers and their unions. It’s a bargain that has served the continent well for decades. And it’s one that we abandon at our peril.”

Foreign Policy Centre Policy Director Adam Hug said: “The recent UK debate around the possible repatriation of current EU employment and social rights has taken us up a blind alley – the idea is both undesirable and unworkable. As part of a single market for goods, services and capital there needs to be some common ground-rules on workers’ rights.

“However we need greater clarity from the EU political institutions about how existing powers, such as the posted workers directive, are supposed to work in practice rather than having to rely on the ECJ to answer these questions.

“The EU needs to balance the needs of businesses and workers across Europe where proposed increased flexibility for firms is matched by similar flexibility for workers, and there is a recognition that simply reducing people’s job security is not a plan to return the continent to long-term growth.”


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