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Gloves Are Coming off as Brexiteers Target Workers' Rights and Manufacturing

28/04/2016 12:51

What would a post-Brexit working world look like? The Leave camp have been rather cagey about their intentions if they win the referendum vote on 23 June, and have even gone to some extraordinary lengths to pretend they care about working people, the steel industry and the NHS (despite political careers previously dedicated to attacking them.)

But the cracks are showing and the gloves are coming off. Today, prominent Leave advocate Priti Patel MP, a Minister in the Work and Pensions Department, did not deny that she wanted to scrap the Working Time Directive which delivered two million workers the right to a paid holiday for the first time ever. She even told Radio 4 that the EU had done nothing to defend workers' rights, and every protection we have was down to the British Government.

While it's certainly true that these rights - like paid holidays, equality in the workplace and health and safety laws - aren't gifts from Brussels bureaucrats, it's breath-taking to suggest we should be thanking Priti and her right-wing chums for them either.

Over the past 40 years, British trade unions have made common cause with trade unionists across Europe to add to the rights we'd already won through collective bargaining in workplaces, and extend them to non-unionised workers. Putting those extended protections in EU law means they cannot be whittled away by politicians. But if Britain votes to leave, those rights would certainly be at risk from the Conservatives and their big business backers.

Patel's Leave ally Michael Gove said last week that, if Britain left the EU, "we wouldn't have all the EU regulations which cost our economy £600 million every week". As InFacts' Jack Shickler wrote: "This figure comes from Open Europe research on the EU's 100 most costly laws. The third most expensive regulation is the working time directive, which sets rules on working hours, holiday, and the right to daily breaks. Rules on temporary agency workers are the fifth most costly. Combined, those two rules alone cost £6.3 billion a year - over 20% of Gove's red tape figure." Maybe that's why Priti Patel is pretending that "this isn't about rolling back workers' rights."

Meanwhile, eight erstwhile Leavers launched Economists for Brexit this morning, led by former long-time Thatcherite Professor Patrick Minford. They claimed - against all the evidence from the Bank of England, the IMF and the OECD - that a Brexit would be good for the British economy.

Unless you work in manufacturing, that is: Minford told Sun readers in March that "if we left the EU, it seems likely that we would mostly eliminate manufacturing."

Trade unions are proud of British manufacturing - like the Mini car company in Cowley, or airplane engine makers in Derby. We are fighting to defend the steel industry in Scunthorpe and Port Talbot. We want to keep the skilled, well-paid jobs they provide, and we want to retain a future for the young apprentices they take on.

But losing our rights at work, or our manufacturing jobs seem, like the cut in household income predicted by the Treasury and the OECD in the last few days, to be 'a price worth paying' for the Leave camp. And that's why the TUC and many trade unions are warning of the risks of Brexit to rights at work and jobs too.

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