Friday 8 March 2019
Workers' rights - flimsy assurances
Twenty-five years ago, in 1994, the Sunday Trading Act permitted shops to open on a Sunday. Until then Sunday had been a "quiet day", set aside primarily for families, relaxation and, for those so inclined, religious observances.*
There was predictable opposition from the churches, who were mollified by assurances that no-one in the retail trade would be "forced" to work on a Sunday, and no-ones' career progression would would be hampered if they asked to be exempted from working on Sundays on religious or any other grounds.
As far as I know these safeguards were written into the Act.**
If they were, then they are not worth the paper they are written on, becasue shop workers are now routinely scheduled to work on Sundays as on any other day, and a refusal would certainly hamper their careers even if it did not result in the sack.
I'm also told that the time-honoured tradition of double the normal hourly rate for working Sundays has also gone out of the window.
I mention this bit of history because in the past week, in order to try to persuade some Labour MPs to vote for Mrs May's EU deal, the government has assured them that they will have the chance to debate and adopt in the UK any improvements in workers' right that the EU may introduce after we have left, (should we do so.)
You can find more details here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-47460850
Once again the assurance is not worth the paper it is written on. Even if it is included by the present parliament in in the EU Exit legislation, there is nothing whatsoever to prevent a future parliament changing or repealing the legislation. That's what "reclaiming our sovereignty" is all about.
Or the provision could simply be ignored, as seems to be the case with Sunday Trading legislation. (Or maybe those assurances have been repealed as well)
Given that the entire Brexit is the dream child of the proponents of right-wing deregulation to "let the market operate freely" there can be little doubt that one of the major results of Brexit, if we go through with it, will be reduced protection for working people.
The EU's safeguards for the rights of employees are probably far from perfect, but they are much better than anything the UK had before we signed up to the "Social Chapter" of the Maastricht Treaty, (remember the Tory government opted out of it).
We must learn from, and not ignore, our history. The best way to preserve, and improve, employees' rights, is to Remain in the EU and work co-operatively with our neighbours towards a fairer and more effective society.
* It's interesting that this Sunday Trading Act was the result of misinformation similar to that which promoted the Brexit Vote. We were told that Britain should move into modern times and enjoy a "Continental Sunday." To my surprise when I spent a year in France in 2004/5, I found that Sunday Trading is strictly regulated and all the supermarkets and larger shops close on a a Sunday, just as they used to do in the UK. I understand there are similar restrictions in Germany.
**It is Schedule 4 but my limited search capabilities haven't yet enabled me to find a copy.