Trampling on workers' rights 'not the Europe we want'
by Hannes Swoboda
While there seems to be a clear path towards solving Europe's economic and political crises, the social arena is overlooked – with hard-won workers' rights increasingly under threat, writes the leader of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament
Recently the British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne presented his plans for radical measures on workers' rights. His proposal is that shares worth £2,000 to £50,000 replace labour rights relating to maternity leave, flexible working and job training as well as giving up the right to take legal action against unfair dismissal.
To deny any worker the right to go to court over an unfair dismissal effectively eradicates job protection and means any employee could be fired at any time, since they could not take action against their employer.
Meanwhile Germany, regularly praised for the flexible economy that has allowed it to weather the crisis, has seen workers' rights curbed for the benefit of employers. In particular the large-scale introduction of low-skilled, low-paid temporary workers has radically changed the terms of employment, with 20.6 per cent of employees in Germany – that is one in five – earning wages below or on the poverty threshold.
Fundamental workers' rights are coming under scrutiny in several countries, in an effort to continually satisfy employers, but increasingly ignoring the needs of employees.
This is not the Europe we want and this is not the life we want for European citizens. The labour rights employees benefit from today were achieved through decades of tough negotiations and compromises. The legislation proposed by Osborne would single-handedly wipe out the struggles of generations of workers for reasonable working conditions.
In particular Britain should remember the often painful clashes between employees and employers in the 1960s and 1970s. We have come a long way since the days of the industrial revolution and the working standards and conditions that have been achieved must not be undermined, but strengthened all over Europe.
Experience shows that secure employment strengthens internal demand which in return fosters growth. And experience also proves that socially fair societies have healthier economies. For Europe to grow out of the crisis, we need not only economic growth but fair working and living conditions. These must include job security and workers' rights.
The recent honour of the Nobel Peace Prize should inspire the European Union to look back at its achievements over time, most notably bringing peace to a war-ravaged continent, but at the same time the long struggle towards equality and social justice.
With no visible threat of violence and the triple political, economic and social crisis shaking the eurozone and EU, we risk forgetting these hard-won rights. While the path seems to be clear to resolve the political and economic crises, with increased cooperation, a fully-fledged banking union and steps towards a genuine political union, the social arena is still being overlooked.
Radical austerity policies in many countries have suffocated growth and stifled internal demand, with devastating consequences for many citizens who have lost their jobs, are struggling to pay their bills and are gradually losing hope and faith in the ability of their countries and the EU to get through the crisis.
If we want citizens to regain hope and faith in national governments and the EU, we must ensure that the values that are at the core of the European project are safeguarded, not trampled on.
Hannes Swoboda MEP is leader of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament
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