Rethinking Europe

Worker Rights: Macron Vs. Britain

Macron’s important reform move on EU posted workers’ directive goes to complete waste in the UK.

Credit: Prachatai www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • In a major win for workers and trade unions, Emmanuel Macron achieved a major strengthening of the EU’s posted workers’ directive.
  • British bosses have always been keen on minimizing their wage bill and avoid paying social security contributions.
  • As it stands, the British labor market is already the least worker-friendly of any in Europe.
  • Mrs. May is too afraid to welcome anything, no matter how sensible in real life, that would get up the ire of her hard Brexiteers.

In a major win for workers and trade unions, France’s new President Emmanuel Macron has overcome the objections from right-wing, anti-worker governments in Eastern Europe as well as from Britain to achieve a major strengthening of the EU’s posted workers’ directive.

That directive is a key part of EU laws to stop social dumping. Beyond that, since Macron had campaigned on the issue in his election race, his success should also help him win critical support at home in France for his package of labor market reforms.

The EU’s so-called posted workers directive has been around for more than a decade. Its aim is to ensure that workers sent or posted to another country are being paid at the going rate of pay (and enjoy the same benefits and working conditions) as local workers in the host country.

The number of posted workers is around two million Europe-wide. A good interactive chart shows where they come from and where they go. The main supply source is Poland and the main destinations for these workers are Germany and France.

“Polish plumbers”

The British government’s position on the issue is more than ironic. Viewed in clear daylight, it is duplicitous.

After all, worries of “Polish plumbers” were a key motivator for the Leave camp in the June 2016 Brexit referendum.

As is becoming apparent now with the benefit of hindsight, via the conduct of current Tory government policy, playing to workers’ worries was just a politically convenient tool to garner working class support for the elitist, highbrow project that is Brexit.

Sadly, acting as the biggest block to any social policy improvements in the EU isn’t only a Tory tradition.
Yes, exploitative British bosses, traditional supporters of the Conservative party, have always been keen on minimizing their wage bill and avoid paying social security contributions. They have thus seen to it that many workers from poorer EU countries were “posted” to Britain.

But even though Tony Blair agreed to the EU Social Charter in 1997, he and especially Gordon Brown after 2007 subsequently always sought to stop, delay or water down any strengthening of EU social directives.

Their political motivation was to encroach on the Tories’ turf by sidling up to corporations. Hence their determined political resistance, which ranged from the working time directive and the agency workers’ directive and especially focused on the posted workers’ directive.

Orders from Downing Street No. 10

Before 2010 both as Europe minister (and, later on, as the Labour Party’s representative on the Party of European Socialists, PES), I used to receive very firm orders from Downing Street No. 10 to vote against any proposal that would result in employers having to treat workers more fairly.

Thus, during both the Blair and Brown premierships, UK businesses did not even require the interference of Rupert Murdoch’s squads of Europe-hating journalists to seize upon anything that might have the effect of supporting fair-minded social policy measures. It was the Labour government’s policy.

The current Prime Minister, Theresa May, remains in the Blair-Brown camp. That is astonishing.

Whether for reasons of receiving bad advice or for reasons of ideological purity, she cannot even see that welcoming the Macron initiative actually removes a lot of the anti-EU mindset, at least of the non-ideological part of the Leave voters, that figured so prominently in the June 2016 referendum.

But perhaps Mrs. May is just too afraid to welcome anything, no matter how sensible in real life, that would get up the ire of her hard Brexiteers, including Boris Johnson.

An urgent wake-up call

All of this should be an urgent wake-up call to those Labour MPs and in the trade unions who still think Brexit will work to the benefit of workers and core Labour voters.

Since there are 55 more Tory than Labour MPs, British unions and blue-collar Brexit workers would be well-advised to rethink life without the EU. Owing to the majority principle in the House of Commons, the UK’s future social laws will certainly be much less agreeable to them.

As it stands, the British labor market is already the least worker-friendly of any in Europe. It is perfectly possible to strengthen worker protection without leaving the EU. It is more than strange that hardly any Labour MP makes this point.

It seems as if there is way too much belief not in Xi Jinping thought, but certainly in Jeremy Corbyn thought.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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