Thursday, 1 May 2014

What have Workers' Rights ever done for us?

Unless you genuinely live under a rock, you will have noticed a recent upturn in European Union trash talking by white male population of this country. Whenever I hear a middle aged brandy drinker trot out the racist, xenophobic drivel that UKIP call policy, I cannot help but recall that Monty Python sketch from The Life of Brian in which Reg asks “What have the Romans ever done for us?” So on this International Workers' Rights Day, I’d like to lay out for you a few reasons why being in the EU is just as useful to women as aqueducts, roads and the alphabet.

Because one day you may have a child – and if you do, the chances are you’ll quite like to take some time off. Your partner probably would as well. You can thank the EU for paid parental leave.

Because you are more likely to end up in a part time job – The demands of childcare, the impact of poor education and job opportunities, plus a whole host of other reasons’ mean that women are more likely to take on part time work or need flexible working hours. EU legislation protects your right to fair 

Because you could lose your job – and the EU ensures that you receive severance pay and that employees are at least consulted about redundancies before they are implemented. The EU also ensures the right to appeal terminations and protection from unfair dismissal.

Because collective action is the only way – the EU guarantees you and your colleagues the right to collective action and bargaining. It remains the most effective way of promoting, establishing and protecting your workplace rights. And it’s seriously under threat.

Because discrimination still exists in the workplace – and the EU is at the forefront of fighting it in the UK and Europe. It was responsible for the bulk of sex discrimination law, as well as the legislation regarding race and age.

In fact, most of the rights we consider absolute and British based, exist because the European Union requires its members to uphold them. Without EU membership we risk losing them all, as big business dislikes not being able to fire you because you have a child and need to leave at five, or because you’re over forty.

The Conservatives have already made it harder for you to appeal a dismissal, they’ve overseen the introduction of zero hour contracts, which artificially boosts unemployment statistics and decreases benefit payments because as you’re employed you can’t get benefits – never mind that you’ve also been given no hours this week and can’t get another job because you allegedly have one. UKIP would tear up the Human Rights Act and have you cleaning behind Nigel Farage’s fridge until you drop dead.

International Worker’s Day isn’t just a token gesture to diehard commies and union members, it’s a mark of respect to the workers that came before us, who didn’t have these protections, and who pushed hard to create them. As a worker in the UK, it frightens me how cavalierly the general public are treating the upcoming European elections as it’s the last bastion of worker’s rights we have in this country. As a woman it positively terrifies me that we could find ourselves having renegotiate the equal pay act, anti-discrimination legislation and workplace rights with men who think homosexuality makes it rain a lot.

I’m not naïve about the problems within the EU. I am for reform and red tape cutting, and agree that some of the directives are a waste of money. But women’s rights are not a nation state issue alone. We cannot have an impact on the welfare of women even worse off than us, if we don’t have a cohesive, enforceable and comprehensive body of law for ourselves as well. The workplace is the most effective place to change our lives and their lives forever. Equal pay, favourable conditions and reasonable benefits are basic rights that we, as women especially, have only just got. And many millions of woman can only dream of them still. 

So I wish you a happy International Workers' Day and leave you with something I hope will cheer you up a little, and maybe even inspire you to help fight for a brighter outlook.


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