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Anti-social Europe

No2EU candidate Brian Denny explains how the EU is promoting zero-hours contracts, casualisation and poverty pay

There has been an explosion in the use of agency workers and zero-hour contracts here and across the European Union.

It has been estimated that over a million people in Britain are now on zero-hour contracts which allows employers to use and abuse workers without any obligation to guarantee a minimum number of working hours.

But zero-hours contracts and the increasing use of agency workers simply reflects the EU's neoliberal employment model which promotes labour market "flexibility," while allegedly providing minimum protections to soften the blow, so-called "flexicurity" - the made-up word by which this model is sold.

The EU's much-derided Lisbon Agenda with its promise of "flexicurity" was followed by "Europe 2020" - a 10-year strategy proposed by the European Commission to "deliver high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion."

This agenda openly calls for wages to reflect productivity, which means cutting wages even further allegedly to compete with the "core" high-investment economies of France and Germany.

Even pro-EU European TUC general secretary Bernadette Segol openly admits that "cuts in salaries, cuts in public services and weakening collective bargaining rights are all on the agenda."

This has sparked unprecedented levels of unemployment particularly in so-called "peripheral" countries such as Ireland, Greece, Portugal and the Baltic states.

The wholesale suspension of trade union collective bargaining as a condition of EU "bailouts" in Ireland, Portugal and Greece also demonstrates that trade union rights are an obstacle to EU plans for restructuring labour markets.

The European Commission, IMF and the European Central Bank now directly intervene in national wage negotiations in Ireland, Greece and Romania to weaken collective bargaining. For instance previously in Romania 98 per cent of workers were covered by collective agreements today that figure is around 20 per cent.

At the start of the year Labour leader Ed Miliband pledged to change Britain's implementation of the EU Agency Workers Directive, which "allows firms to avoid paying agency workers at the same rates as directly employed staff."

The next day The Times quoted Recruitment and Employment Confederation boss Kevin Green as saying Miliband's arguments were "misleading," adding: "These arrangements are part of the 2010 Agency Workers Regulations that were agreed following consultation between the last Labour government, business and the unions and apply to British and non-British workers."

From this exchange it is clear that the directive does not protect agency workers and that the agencies themselves are very happy with the current arrangements.

So why haven't the much-lauded European Union Agency Work Regulations (AWR) defended vulnerable workers?

The reality is that despite the fact that AWR was purported to protect agency workers, the overwhelming effect of it coming into force has been to actually normalise and institutionalise casualised labour.

Moreover while the regulations are meant to ensure agency workers enjoy the same basic pay and conditions as permanent workers any such rights only kick after 12 weeks on the same temporary assignment.

And as if that is not enough there is a "flat-pack" solution for employers to avoid the AWR altogether, the so-called "Swedish derogation" which is being used aggressively by agencies and users of agency work to keep down pay.

This derogation was inserted by the Swedish EU delegation during the usual Byzantine horse-trading that goes on as directives are drawn up behind closed doors.

Under it, if the agency worker signs a permanent employment contract with an agency then there is no obligation for them to receive basic pay and conditions comparable to a permanent worker.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady has said: "Swedish derogation contracts are just one more example of a new growing type of employment that offers no job security, poor career progression and often low pay."

Agency workers are being forced to waive any alleged right to protection under the AWR. Some agency workers are finding that they are worse off, since their contract stipulates where they can be sent to work with little advance warning.

 

The EU directive even demands that member states end "unjustified" or "disproportionate" restrictions on agency work such as the ban on agency workers in the public sector in France and Spain.

This extension of agency labour at the heart of the directive explains why Norwegian workers organised national protests against its implementation in 2013.

The promises of "social Europe," launched 25 years ago to sell EU treaties to the labour movement, are being replaced by the realities of "anti-social Europe" with attacks on workers' rights across Europe driven by the EU institutions.

These EU rules, directives and European Court of Justice judgments - such as in the Viking and Laval cases - are driving a race to the bottom in terms of jobs, wages and conditions and encouraging social dumping on a huge scale.

Ultimately, destroying the concept of a permanent job with rights and replacing it with precarious employment while exploiting a reserve army of cheap labour is the core structural adjustment strategy of the EU.

That is no future for workers or the labour movement. Vote No2EU - Yes to Workers' Rights.

 

For more information visit www.no2eu.com

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