Employment Rights Secure in the EU
Much has already been said in the fractious and often disingenuous campaign ahead of this month’s referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Indeed, the debate has been so disjointed that I recently chose to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, when people could expect to hear the positive case for remaining in the EU, rather than the scaremongering that has been propagated by the Prime Minister, and others so far.
Whilst many things remain unclear in this campaign, the protection of employee rights afforded by the European Union is something that I and my SNP colleagues are unequivocal about. It is undeniable that European legislation has helped secure fundamental rights for employees in the UK, including; The Working Time Directive (WTD), which places a restriction on weekly working hours which must not exceed 48 hours on average, regulations guaranteeing equal treatment to part time, temporary and agency workers, and rules providing protection on the grounds of discrimination based on religion or belief, sexual orientation and age. What’s more, those who ask what the EU has ever done for us can count current pregnancy and maternity leave rights, alongside parental leave, as bona fide benefits of membership.
A recent report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, entitled ‘The EU Referendum and UK Poverty’, highlighted that the fundamental rights granted via EU membership have a pronounced and positive effect on those in the UK who are at the greatest risk of poverty. In this regard, the report explains that European employment legislation seeks to grant particular groups, such as those employed in temporary, agency and part time work or those who are disabled, more robust rights to equal treatment than they could otherwise expect under UK law.
Given the record of recent UK Governments in attempting to weaken EU employment law, it seems particularly unlikely that the main tenets of this European-inspired legislation could be protected in the event of a decision to leave. One only needs to remember back to 2015, when the Conservative Government was promulgating the Trade Union Bill as one of its flagship policies of the new parliament – a piece of legislation, although now heavily amended, that sought to weaken trade unions and erode the privileges of workers to the point where it would be almost impossible for them to defend their rights.
As has often been the case in the referendum campaign so far, a clear and coherent alternative plan to membership of the European Union for the UK has been distinctly lacking, with campaigners focussing instead on hyperbole and hysteria. In the case of employment however, one thing is crystal clear: Scottish workers have benefited, and continue to benefit, from a range of protections thanks to legislation enacted by the European Union, and we should not take these rights for granted. Plainly, in terms of rights for employees, only a vote to remain can guarantee that these privileges are not diminished, or abrogated altogether.