The UK has EU membership to thank for jobs, rights and investment, says Tony Burke, assistant general secretary of Unite the Union – Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union.
Among the incoherent set of policies laid out in the Queen’s Speech by David Cameron, the EU referendum is set to dominate the political landscape for months to come.
With the stakes of this referendum so high we could have a reprise of the 1992 Conservative government, which was riven apart over the Maastricht Treaty. All of this will create uncertainty among manufacturers and investors in UK PLC.
With a referendum on the table, the Labour Party not only has to argue for a Yes vote, they also have to lay out for the British people why a No vote would be a disaster for jobs – especially in manufacturing – and for EU-wide employment rights.
Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey has said that Unite will play its part in a genuine debate, stating: “Some of the most sensible rights for working people flow from our membership of the EU, much needed given the determination of this Government to further reduce even the minor protections UK workers currently depend upon.”
The importance of jobs and Europe-wide employment rights has to be uppermost in the discussions to come, and Labour has a big role to play in making sure our voice is heard and these rights are defended.
From a Unite standpoint, EU membership has given us legal rights and legislation that have helped bring 3.5m jobs to the UK (more than 10% in every region) and added an estimated £330bn to our economy. Two-thirds of UK manufacturing jobs are sustained by trade with the rest of the EU.
The economics make membership crucial, but so too does the protection that it gives working people.
We have EU membership to thank for such issues as parental leave being extended to at least four months for each parent; laws which say part-time workers can no longer be treated less favourably than full time workers; the working time directive protecting workers from being forced to work long hours without breaks; guaranteed paid annual leave of at least four weeks – now at average pay thanks to Unite, and protection for workers faced with company takeovers and closures, with the right to be informed and consulted.
Importantly, some major manufacturing firms have come out against a UK exit. Alongside previous comments from Nissan, Fords and others, recently Airbus UK said that the company is based on a “model of European integration” and promised to be more vocal in their support for stability and continued membership.
One of our leading engineering bodies has also pointed out that EU citizens currently working here as skilled engineers and scientists – who are adding to the success of the UK economy – could become foreigners in the event of an exit, possibly without the right to stay.
And this is a two way street. We have many of our nationals working in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, and beyond.
Unite is committed to our continuing membership of the EU. Our union will fight hard for a Yes vote to remain in the EU, defending jobs and decent employment rights.