Wednesday 11 February 2009

A fair deal for workers

The recent strikes by British workers have been part of a wave of actions right across the European Union. In the UK, France, Greece and elsewhere, citizens are - quite rightly - concerned that the extraordinary efforts to save banks will not be accompanied by extraordinary efforts to safeguard employment. And it has not helped that the conservative-dominated European Commission has failed to stop freedom of movement of workers from being exploited to drive down wages.

The right-wing Commission really shot itself in the foot in the 'Laval Case' in 2007, when a ruling allowed a Latvian company constructing a school in Sweden to ignore locally-agreed wages and conditions. Here and elsewhere, judgements have created uncertainty about workers’ rights and collective agreements.

At the Party of European Socialists we believe that freedom of movement can benefit both workers and employers. But until the loopholes are closed this will not always be the case in practice. In these times of recession it is all the more important to support the hard-working women and men who are the engine of the EU economy.

That is why in our manifesto for the upcoming European elections, the Party of European Socialists commit ourselves to 'putting people first'. I am grateful to Denis MacShane for pointing out the relevance of this in a recent Guardian article. The manifesto pledges that “Together with the social partners, we will examine the impact of the Viking, Laval, and other judgements to ensure that rights are not undermined. A review of the EU Posting of Workers Directive is essential. To encourage collective bargaining at European level, we want to develop a European framework for cross-border collective bargaining and collective agreements.” We also propose:

  • a European Social Progress Pact with ambitious goals and standards
  • a social progress clause in every piece of European legislation
  • a European framework for public services
  • a European pact on wages, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work
  • strengthened workers rights to information and consultation

"Conservatives claim that globalisation makes it necessary for people to work longer and harder. But we progressives know that globalisation does not make this inevitable - only bad politics does."

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