Socialist Worker

Unions must resist Tory plan for longer working hours

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2585

Neither the EU nor Theresa May are interesting in defending workers rights

Neither the EU nor Theresa May are interested in defending workers' rights (Pic: Flickr/Downing Street )


The Tories may be planning to use Brexit as an excuse to push through attacks on workers’ rights.

The Sunday Times and Sun newspapers have both reported plans by ministersincluding Michael Gove and Boris Johnsonto scrap the Working Time Directive. Introduced in 1998, the directive limits how long bosses can force workers to work to 48 hours a week—although there are opt-outs and exceptions. It also lays down minimum holidays.

The Sun ludicrously said the plans would give workers an “overtime bonanza” and make the average family £1,200 better off.

The answer to poverty pay and stagnating wages is not making workers’ work longer. It lies with union’s fighting for a £10 an hour minimum wage now and inflation-busting pay rises in the public and private sectors. 

As Frances O’Grady, TUC union federation general secretary, said, “This is a straight-up attack on our rights at work. 

“Millions could lose their paid holidays and be forced to work ridiculously long hours.”

Any attacks on workers’ rights must be resisted. 

Yet the TUC has tied itself to looking for the EU to protect workers’ rights. 

Transferred 

But Tories from across the Remain/Leave divide support scrapping the directive after Britain leaves the EU. This is despite Theresa May claiming that EU laws would be transferred onto the British statute book as part of Brexit. 

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Workers had paid holidays before the EU Working Time Directive was implemented. Many of these were because of collective bargaining agreements that unions had forced from the bosses.

And, under pressure, the British government raised the paid holiday entitlement to 5.6 weeks so bosses couldn’t include Bank Holidays within the minimum. The EU only guarantees four weeks. 

The EU brought in the Working Time Directive to iron out labour market differences across Europe. This was so capitalists in countries with weaker workers’ rights wouldn’t have a significant advantage over their rivals.

And they needed to sugar the pill of pushing through free market reforms and privatisation.

Europe’s rulers are not concerned with boosting workers’ rights—and now want to level them down, not up.

To resist the Tories’ plans for longer hours means unions fighting, not looking to the EU bosses’ club. Unions won workers’ paid holidays before the directive enshrined some of those rights in law—it will take unions fighting to defend the legal rights and win more.


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