Frances O’Grady calls on unions in Europe to fight repatriation plan that she says is prelude to ‘undercutting’ worker’s rights
David Cameron will use EU reforms to repatriate and weaken workers’ rights, Frances O’Grady, the new leader of the Trades Union Congress will warn on Monday.
Speaking at a conference in Madrid she will say that, if the prime minister gets his way, employees across Europe may no longer receive health and safety protection, equal treatment as part-time workers and women, or paid holidays.
The TUC general secretary’s words come after Nick Clegg warned his coalition partner that a promise to hold a referendum on EU membership risked damaging the fragile economy.
In a pledge viewed as an acknowledgement that his own backbenchers are under pressure from Ukip, Cameron said on Wednesday that he wanted to stay in the EU but pledged to claw back powers and offer voters the choice of a new relationship or an exit by the end of 2017 if the Conservatives were back in power in 2015. His stance delighted Eurosceptic backbenchers.
O’Grady will tell the European Trades Union Congress that Cameron has already made it easier for employers to sack people and more difficult for workers to get justice in the courts.
She will state: “There’s one set of workers’ rights David Cameron can’t touch. Those are the rights provided for by social Europe – paid holidays, health and safety, equal treatment for part-time workers and women, protection when a business is sold off, and a voice at work. The prime minister wants to repatriate those rights, and not because he thinks he can improve them. Cameron wants to make it easier for bad employers to undercut good ones, drive down wages, and make people who already work some of the longest hours in Europe work even longer. To do that he needs agreement from the rest of Europe.”
She will urge European unions to mount campaigns in their own countries against Cameron’s reforms. “What [he] is trying to do isn’t just opt out of social Europe, he wants to undercut it.”
Clegg on Sunday dismissed prospects of securing a significant renegotiation and suggested Cameron should concentrate on the economy – which risks slumping into a triple-dip recession.
Speaking on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, the Liberal Democrat leader said that Cameron was engaged in an “arcane” debate about the precise terms of the membership of the EU before a referendum could take place.
“It is not in the national interest when we have this fragile recovery, when we have a very open economy which is very dependent on investors in the car industry and the banking system and so on. You must always, when you are trying to piece together a recovery, foster those precarious conditions of greater confidence in the economy, you mustn’t do anything to make that more difficult.”
He claimed most businesses he had spoken to were worried by the uncertainty concerning a referendum and its consequences.
“Is it deliverable to, in effect, say to the rest of the EU: we want to do all the bits that we like but can you keep all the stuff that we think is not good for the economy? That is not plausible.”
Grant Shapps, the Tory chairman, said the government was not ignoring the country’s perilous economic position by developing a new policy on Europe. “Europe is a big central issue which has a major effect on most people’s daily lives and should not be ignored,” he told Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News.
Meanwhile, Ed Miliband, Labour’s leader, defended his opposition to a referendum on the EU.
“I just don’t think it’s in the national interest. Right now it doesn’t make sense to commit to a referendum years ahead.”
Miliband added: “Has [Cameron]changed his mind because he’s changed his view about the national economic interest? Or has he changed his mind because there’s pressure in the Conservative party and he’s worried about Ukip?
“I contend it’s the second, not the first. That’s why I’ve stuck to the position we’ve always had.”
A ComRes poll for the Sunday Mirror and Independent on Sunday put the Tories up five points on 33% following Cameron’s speech. Labour was unchanged, with 39%, but its lead had slipped from 11 points to six over a month. Ukip’s support has fallen.