Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Brexit could threaten worker’s rights if Boris gets his way.

There is an old saying that you should be careful what you wish for just in case you get it. The same sort of caution should be exercised over the things for which you vote too.

That is a lesson the 52% of British voters who backed leaving the EU in 2016 are likely to learn the hard way if the extreme Brexiteers in the cabinet get their way.

Over the weekend The Sun and The Sunday Times reported that Boris Johnson and Michael Give were in favour of scrapping the Working Time Directive when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

This, the article in The Sun quoted Johnson as saying, is necessary to ‘maximise the benefits of Brexit'. An unavoidable exit from ‘restrictive' rules and, in one of his trademark colourful turns of phrase, our last best hope against becoming a ‘vassal state' in thrall to Brussels.

In practice, this would see 7million workers, 4.7million of whom are women, would be at risk of losing the right to paid holidays. Other rights likely to go into the fire would include that to work no more than 48 hours in any given week, rest breaks and health and safety protection for night workers.

Trades Union Council General Secretary Frances O'Grady said, if it went ahead, such a move would be a ‘straight up attack on our rights at work'.

If enacted any scrapping of the Working Time Directive would happen as part of the bonfire of EU inspired laws known as the Great Repeal Bill. Calming voices say such an outcome would never happen, our captains of industry would never be so foolish as to wish for it; I'm not so sure, many of them make Captain Pugwash look like Nelson.

Whatever happens merely hinting at such a thing helps to fuel the feud between Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Chancellor Phillip Hammond. These two sorry characters are, by their own estimation at least, big beasts poised to engage in the two bald men fighting over a comb battle to lead the Tory party any day now.

Hammond, currently out of the country on a trade mission to China, was reported by the Independent as saying that although the UK would not ‘technically or legally be in the customs union or the single market,’ the aim of negotiations would be to create an ‘environment which will effectively replicate the status quo, so that businesses can carry on trading with their commercial partners across the EU as they do now'.

Not exactly Henry V on the eve of Agincourt, but you can hear the distinct sound of a line being drawn in the sand as not sides prepare for another squabble disguised as a showdown.

In a public statement on Sunday Frances O'Grady called on the Prime Minister to keep her promise to protect worker’s rights after Brexit saying, ‘now we will see if she can keep her word, or if she is a hostage to extremists in her own cabinet'.

There is a certain Tory type on whom the Working Time Directive works in the same way a red rag does on a bull. They see it as an obscene hindrance to the great project of making everyone, meaning everyone they go to dinner parties with, rich. How dare those scoundrels in Brussels force British workers to have paid holidays and decent rest brakes?

They assert with the determination of the deranged that if people were able to work for longer, they’d work harder too. Conveniently ignoring the fact that despite working some of the longest hours Britain has shockingly low levels of productivity.

Scrapping the Working Time Directive wouldn’t make our economy more efficient, it would still be beset by low levels of investment and poor management. All that would be added is an extra helping of alienation for an already dissatisfied workforce.

If this were just another round in the ongoing internal squabbles of the political establishment if would be bad enough; unfortunately, there is a potentially worse outcome.

Hard pressed communities around the country were sold the line that a vote for Brexit was a vote for regaining control; turns out it wasn’t. If the extremists get their way it will be a vote to hand back hard -won rights in return for unsatisfying jobs in an economy that bumps along the bottom until we drop out of the G7.

The countries that will prosper in the twenty first century are those that find new ways of thinking about how their citizens work and about the idea of work itself. Trundling ever onwards in the delusion that the important thing about business is being busy is a recipe for going nowhere fast.

The vote to leave the EU is an established fact, the sort of relationship we have with Europe afterwards isn’t, yet. If we get it wrong and ideology trumps common sense, then we may shunt ourselves into an economic cul-de-sac.

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