Unite GS: Workers must have a seat at the EU table

UK employers have been urged to let workers ‘fight the corner’ of UK jobs and industries as the country begins the Brexit negotiations.

The call comes from Unite general secretary Len McCluskey as he addressed workers’ representatives from across the UK economy at a meeting convened by the union to consider our future relationships with European Works Councils (EWC).

Unite has the greatest number of representatives on these councils of any union in the UK. The EWCs are a vital partnership forum for workers from across the EU to coordinate the labour standards and investment plans for workers employed by some of Europe’s major employers in core industries such as the automotive, transport and steel sectors.

However, the union is concerned that with the Brexit negotiations yet to get underway, it is receiving word from members that some employers are preventing them from taking up their elected seats on the relevant EWC.

Addressing the representatives from across UK industry, Len McCluskey said, “We are getting increasingly concerned that the mood music coming from number 10 is that it will be looking for a deal that works for the City of London but not for the shop floors of the UK.

“Unite’s position is that while a majority may have voted to be out of the EU, they did not vote to be out of work but it looks very much like it will be down to working people and their unions to make sure that this is not the case.

“The UK is leaving the European Union but it is not free-wheeling, cross-border capitalism that is under threat – it is the social and employment protections guaranteed by the EU that most certainly are,” he added. “And if they can be destroyed by a ‘tax haven UK’ on this side of the Channel, this will soon destroy labour standards on the other side, too.

“That is why we must retain our strong UK presence on the European Works Councils. We need to be at the table when decisions on jobs and investment are being made by some of the biggest employers on the planet. We must be allowed to fight the corner for UK workers.

“So I appeal to UK employers then: do not prevent our representatives discharging their duties,” McCluskey went on to say. “Let them continue to attend the EWC meetings so that the voice of UK industries and workers is heard.”

Len McCluskey again criticised prime minister Theresa May for setting her face against access to the single market.

“The prime minister’s first move was to ditch the single market and dash across the Atlantic to try to hoover up some crumbs from Donald Trump’s table,” he said. “That she is prioritising immigration concerns above economic prosperity, should set alarm bells ringing throughout British industry. Make no mistake, these actions put hundreds of thousands of our members’ jobs at risk.

“There are less reckless ways to secure continued access to the free market while dealing with concerns about migrant labour.

“Establishing safeguards for communities, for workers, and for industries needing labour would go a long way towards changing the debate without destroying industries and public services,” McCluskey argued.

“Such an approach would show, too, that the government is serious about giving real reassurance to working people in towns and cities abandoned by globalisation.”

Len McCluskey also condemned the government for its continuous failure to provide security for the millions of EU citizens living and working in the UK.

“Little wonder that there is such anger at the government’s disgraceful treatment of refugees, of vulnerable children who deserve safety and protection,” he said. “They have brought shame to this country’s honourable tradition of compassion.

“And there is growing anger and shame at the Tory continuing refusal to give security to people here, working, raising families and contributing.”

“The government’s attempts to use EU citizens already living and working here as a sort of negotiating card must cease. These are our colleagues, our members, our neighbours – they must have the right to remain.”

Unite has more EWC reps – and therefore more international connections – than any other union in the UK. The range of multinationals covered runs from Barclays to easyJet and Ford.

Also attending the Unite conference were speakers from the major European Unions, CGT and IG Metall, who are working with Unite to prevent a ‘Tax haven UK’ from dragging down working conditions across Europe.