Recent events haven’t really helped my case for Europe.
I wonder how many Britons who are hearing about the worker’s protests in the North East realise that the reason so many contracts are awarded to foreign companies is linked to the EU. The Acquis Communitaire and the Posted Workers Directive are phrases that, at this time, I would expect to hear a lot… but not so, except in the case of Europe-wide media such as the EU Observer.
In fact, in the most recent BBC’s articles about the various walk-outs I searched “Europe,” “EU,” “European Union” – and found nothing. If it had been mentioned on TV news (with my current role as a Euroblogger) I surely would have noticed.
Poul Nyrup Rassmussen, chief of the Party of European Socialists, recently said that: “Workers are beginning to question the freedom of movement because the European Commission has allowed it to be used to undermine wages and working conditions.” I think that about sums it up.
The European Commission pointed out that the UK benefits greatly from freedom of movement, as more UK citizens are posted in EU countries than vice versa. There is obviously another side to this.
Derek Simpson, general secretary of Unite, said that: “Some of these companies … are saying they will exclusively debar UK workers, they will not consider UK workers under any circumstances.”
I’m sure everyone can agree that as unemployment figures are flirting with the 2 million bar, this is a legitimate concern. Even if we fully support free movement of posted workers, is it right for companies to exclude applications from desperate people that live in their back yard?
So now Gordon Brown and the Electoral Commission have something of their work cut out for them. The Electoral Commission seems like it certainly won’t budge on this issue (and probably quite wisely, and predictably) despite a lot of pressure. There might, however, be room in UK law for a quick one-liner to discourage companies from disregarding UK skilled workers.
Alternatively the entire issue might fizzle away into the background, as do so many issues that anger the public in the UK. You can’t blame the government for this either (unless we go into one of my long rants about poor education and apathy – coming soon to a blog near you).
Maybe a hundred or so years ago, newspapers would have clung to such a story as this. Granted, probably to kick up a fuss and increase readership. But these days, most of the media is funded by advertising and their readership is lazy.
“Why should we run a story about developments with this boring protest when our demographic research shows that 70% of people in our target audience of 18-24 year olds would rather hear a story about Jade Goody choking on a bratwurst?!”
(Disclaimer: Nobody actually said this )
The Scottish Liberal Democrats (I’m on the Lib Dem mailing list for some reason) sent me a petition today about fire fighters. In rural areas of Scotland, “retained fire fighters” are people who have a normal day job but who are trained to fight fires. They make themselves available on-call if there aren’t enough full-time fire fighters in the area).
EU law says that a person cannot work more than a 48-hour week. Apparently it also restricts on-call working hours and technically these people shouldn’t be employed as they are currently. But in rural areas that don’t have the budget (maybe this issue should be explored as an alternative to breaking EU law), “those firefighters on call can mean the difference between life and death” (Tavish Scott, Leader Scottish Liberal Democrats).
And how could this be solved? Well the EU could decide to alter the rules to exclude on-call emergency service workers. Or as I mentioned earlier, a bigger budget could be provided to rural emergency services. What can’t be ignored is that something really needs to be done. I won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of this topic, but wouldn’t the same restrictions apply to on-call doctors?
I signed the petition and checked the “keep me updated on this issue” box. So hopefully I will have more information on this soon.
Maybe when I go out into the big wide world with my camera (which I got today, so thankyou to my lovely fiancé for a lovely Valentine’s Day gift), I will find some people who are aware of issues like this. Maybe the North West of England isn’t just innocently ignorant, maybe they are actively critical of the EU because of sweeping rules and stiff regulations like these ones.
Also, happy Valentine’s Day!