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What has the EU ever done for us?

6 January 2014

As Parliament considers plans for a 2017 referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, Labour’s leader in the European Parliament, Glenis Willmott MEP, sets out the benefits of EU membership for TSSA members.

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Even our tea breaks - along with many other rights at work - could be at risk if David Cameron pulls us out of Europe.

Many Eurosceptics would have you believe that the very fabric of British life is under attack from Brussels as a result of mythical bans on everything from homemade jam to classic cars and Enid Blyton books. You may well be expecting millions of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants to arrive, clutching welfare benefit application forms and heading straight for our overstretched NHS the minute they step off the plane, train or ferry.

Of course, Europe is not perfect and Labour MEPs have been leading the campaign for reform. For example, I have long argued for an end to the ‘travelling circus’ of splitting the Parliament between Strasbourg and Brussels, which costs a scandalous 150 million Euros a year at a time of austerity. We also need to put more into job creation and into research and development, and less into agriculture and wasteful bureaucracy. But though the EU does need to change, it’s vital we remember just what we get from Europe, most notably in terms of employment law. A wide range of rights at work are guaranteed to British workers as a result of laws made in the European Parliament and signed up to by European governments to create a level playing field.

They include the right to guaranteed paid holidays, a limit on the hours you can be expected to work, tea and lunch breaks during the working day and the right to a day off a week. They include rights for mums and dads – like the right not to be sacked for being pregnant, protection when returning to work after maternity leave, the right to time off for ante-natal appointments as well as health and safety protection for pregnant women and new and breastfeeding mums. Laws stemming from Europe include ‘TUPE’ terms and conditions protection when a business is sold off. They protect workers against discrimination, provide equal treatment for those employed through an agency, and require consultation with unions where there are mass redundancies.

And rules requiring employers to protect workers from exposure to noise, vibration and hazardous substances, and to assess, prevent or control the risks arising from work, for example, with computer displays or when carrying out lifting operations, all come from Europe. These rights and protection will all be at risk if Britain leaves the EU. And let’s be clear that when David Cameron talks about “renegotiating the Treaty” and “repatriating” powers from Brussels to Westminster, he means taking rights away from working people. Just look at how his ConDem government has already made it easier for employers to sack workers and more difficult for workers to get justice in the courts and employment tribunals.

At present, just 13 out of 73 UK representatives in the Parliament are Labour MEPs, partly as a result of protest votes at the 2009 European elections which saw 13 UKIP and two BNP MEPs elected. Every step we take to improve conditions for workers is opposed by the Tories and other right-wing parties in Europe.

That’s why it’s crucial that TSSA members get involved in our European election campaign. Together we can make sure that Labour MEPs who want to reform Europe, not leave it, and who will defend workers’ rights and campaign for better health and safety standards, are elected on 22 May 2014.

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