The EU protects workers and consumers in Hampshire
- Workers and consumers in Hampshire benefit from a range of different rights coming from the EU, whether they be around safety and commercial standards, health and safety, working hours or protections for disabled or LGBTI people.
- 33% of all employees in the Hampshire County area, and marginally more in Portsmouth (35%), Southampton (37%) and Isle of Wight (38%) local authority areas, work part-time. All these people have benefitted from EU rules ensuring that part-time workers cannot be discriminated against in relation to full-time workers.
- There is no guarantee that these rights would be protected if the UK withdrew from the EU- indeed, they are one of the main reasons why many politicians on the Right want us to leave.
Our consumer and worker rights have been enhanced greatly by the EU. The products we buy must be properly labelled, fairly marketed and have a secure returns policy. The European Working Time Directive (WTD) protects four weeks of paid annual leave for every worker in Europe and many other pieces of EU law both stop British workers from being exploited at work and protect good employers.
Protecting us when we shop
The EU makes up nearly half of all trade that the UK has with the rest of the world. This means that thanks to the lower trade barriers introduced by the EU, British consumers have easier access to a more competitive market when they want to do their shopping. Europe has some of the highest safety and commercial standards in the entire world thanks to EU policy.
There is now increased transparency when you go shopping, with sellers required to prove full details of who they are, what they are selling and how much it costs (including taxes and delivery) so that there are no hidden costs. This is in addition to comprehensive laws about food labelling and unit price so that you know what is in your food and how much it costs compared to similar products. Lots of products have also been made safer because of EU action. For example, a new EU standard for cigarette design means they now extinguish themselves if they are not puffed on- saving one life every five days in the UK, according to the London Fire Brigade.
EU law has also introduced standard rules for offering refunds across Europe. If you buy something that is broken, you can return it and have it repaired or replaced. If the repair or replacement isn't possible, you can get a part or complete refund of your money. Traders must also refund you within 14 days of unwanted goods being shipped.
Empowering us at work
The right to a holiday and proper leisure time is something that we all value. British workers now have the security of knowing that their rights are protected both in Britain and if they work abroad in Europe. For example, the adoption of the EU's Working Time Regulations in 1998 guaranteed workers paid holiday. The Directive guarantees four weeks of paid leave, which means that now everyone can feel able to take proper annual leave without fear of losing their job.
The Directive also helps you control how long you work for. Unless you choose to opt out, you cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours in a seven day period, and you cannot be forced to work more than 13 consecutive hours in a day. If you are a night shift worker you are not allowed to work more than an average of eight hours in each 24 hour period. You are also guaranteed free health assessments before assignments and at regular intervals to check that you are not damaging your health at work.
EU law also gives protection to temporary workers and agency workers, who are often in the most precarious jobs, stops part-time workers being treated less favourably than full-time workers, and stops pregnant women from being treated unfavourably by employers.
The EU has also introduced legislation to stop workers being exposed to dangerous chemicals and substances. These regulations set out standards that must be maintained to ensure the safety of workers. For example, the EU’s 2009 Directive on exposure to asbestos at work sets out the maximum permitted value for airborne concentration of asbestos, meaning that employees cannot be forced to work in situations where they could be seriously risking their long term health.
Promotes LGBTI equality
Under Provisions made in the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999, it is now illegal for any country in the EU to allow discrimination at work based on sexual orientation. Under the Charter of Fundamental Rights it became illegal for any discrimination to be made on the grounds of sexual orientation. This charter became legally binding in 2009 and also protects Transgender people from being discriminated against.
Accessibility and opportunity improved for disabled people
In addition to helping to protect the rights of LGBTI people, the Charter of Fundamental Rights also protects people with disabilities from discrimination. 11.6 million people in the UK have a disability and thanks to the work of the European Union, more is being done to break down barriers and end discrimination against disabled people – whether it’s in the workplace or on public transport.
Labour MEPs are working hard in the European Parliament to try and extend our working rights and update them for the modern world. In particular, we have won the support of Socialists across Europe for EU-wide action against zero-hours contracts, and will keep pushing for this. On a separate issue, it is often asked whether there is a European minimum wage. This has been discussed at European level, but opinions are divided. Some people feel it would be a good thing but for others it could lead to a levelling-down of pay towards the levels in the lowest-paid countries. Because of this, the Socialist group in the parliament (where Labour MEPs sit) does not have a firm position in favour or against a European minimum wage.
What happens if we leave?
Initially David Cameron appeared to be targeting the Working Time Directive as part of his ‘renegotiation’ of the UK’s relationship with the EU. After pressure from the public and Trade Unions, he seems to have backed down on some of this agenda. Nevertheless, it is very likely that if the UK leaves the EU then these rights will be taken away completely. Recently European rules have provided one of the only guarantees of protection at work in the face of concerted attacks by the UK government on working peoples’ rights.