Briefing on European Policy Issues (Briefing No.
76 April 2004)
there are a number of policy initiatives being debated at the European level that
have the potential to impact dramatically on the provision of public services
in the UK and the working conditions of UK employees. Many of these issues will
not be new to UNISON members, as we have campaigned steadfastly on themes like
GATS and the privatisation of meat inspection for a number of years now. This
briefing will update members on the latest developments on these issues and introduce
other important European policy initiatives that UNISON believes have the ability
to impact negatively on the provision of public services in the UK.
briefing is released to coincide with the run-up to the parliamentary elections
for the European Union in June 2004. The topics covered in this briefing are;
4. Temporary Workers Directive
7. EU Migration
2. Internal Market Strategy
5. EC Directive on Data Protection
8. European Constitution
3. Working Time Directive
6. Privatised Meat Inspection
9. The EURO
Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)
of the GATS is the liberalisation of trade in services and the gradual removal
of "barriers" to competition in the services sector. Its basic purpose is to constrain
all levels of government (local, regional, and national) in their delivery of
services and to facilitate access to government contracts by transnational corporations
in a multitude of areas, including education, health and local government.
spite of assurances that have been given by the Government, UNISON Scotland remains
concerned by the apparent threat that GATS poses to public services. We fear that
GATS will indeed give a green light to the privatisation of public services. We
want to secure a commitment from Government that they will not sign up to a treaty
that requires the UK to liberalise any public services.
concerns with GATS
1. Article 1.3
beliefs that the ambiguity of Article 1.3 gives no reason to be confident about
the exclusion of public and government Services form GATS.
As long as there is pressure to liberalise,
and GATS is an instrument of pressure, there will be pressure for a change in
ownership where services remain in the public sector; and liberalisation/commercialisation
will become a permanent feature of the services sector.
believe it is essential that the National Health Service is totally exempt from
GATS. The application of GATS to the National Health Service would fundamentally
threaten the model of the NHS, exposing it to a number of potential legal challenges
under the GATS rules.
and higher education is clearly vulnerable to being fully within the scope of
GATS. The funding for higher education could be seriously and radically restructured
if they were subject to GATS. Employment conditions and pay could be seriously
undermined by the increase in competition in the education sector.
UNISON believes that the current instability
and uncertainty within the UK energy markets would increase were there to be a
further opening of energy services through GATS. We believe that no further commitments
should be made through GATS and that the focus of government policy should be
to promote safe, secure and environmentally benign energy services.
UNISON believes it is essential that the
UK and developing countries are able to retain public provision of utility services
such as energy, transport and water and that the risk of a 'lock-in' of existing
public utilities that have already been privatised is avoided. The extent of private
sector involvement should be a matter for domestic public policy decision at national
and local level.
2. Internal Market Strategy
is concerned at the European Commission's continued and accelerated liberalisation
agenda as outlined in its Internal Market Strategy - Priorities 2003 - 2006.
major concern is the intention of the European Commission to start looking for
ways to "increase competition" in the water sector. Urgent action is needed to
convince the European Parliament to reject the inclusion of water services under
the EU's Internal Market, a development that would fast-track water liberalisation
and privatisation in Europe. If the Commission succeeds in getting water defined
as just another sector to be liberalised as part of the Internal Market, this
would have disastrous consequences for the struggle to keep water out of GATS
and for the battle against water privatisation in general. Bill Miller MEP has
been leading the opposition to this in the European Parliament
addition, UNISON has fears that the EC strategy will actively encourage the opening
up of national health systems to the Internal Market, undermining the concept
of universal provision of public health care and endangering the NHS. The strategy
will also encourage the expansion of the role of public private partnerships'
(PPPs) in public services, ensuring a greater role for the private sector in the
provision essential public services.
3. Working Time
The aim of the working time directive
is to ensure that workers are protected against adverse effects on their health
and safety caused by working excessively long hours, having inadequate rest or
disrupted work patterns. However, the application of the Directive in the UK has
been seriously flawed and must be strengthened. This very disappointing outcome
has been the result of the directive being applied much too loosely, the principal
problem being that the UK Government allows all UK workers to opt-out of the 48-hour
average weekly working time limit.
As such, UK workers are
failing to get what they are entitled to. It is a basic principle of European
law that where Directives are transposed into domestic law, they are adequately
enforced, and that individuals have the right to ensure that they are enforced.
Bluntly, this is not happening with the Working Time Directive. UNISON believes
that the opt-out provisions must end as soon as possible as these provisions have
had a pernicious effect on UK workers.
Agency Workers Directive
The draft directive on
temporary agency workers would establish the principle of non-discrimination,
including for pay, between temporary agency workers and comparable workers in
the firm to which the temporary agency worker has been assigned. The principle
would apply when a worker has completed 6 weeks with the same employer.
in December 2003 an UK co-ordinated blocking minority effectively removed the
Temporary Agency Workers Directive from the agenda of the EU Council of Ministers.
The likelihood of the directive returning to the agenda in the immediate future
remains unlikely as the UK government continues to demand that agency temps should
receive equal pay and basic rights only when they have been in a job for over
UNISON calls on the UK Government to sign up to
full and effective employment rights for temporary and agency workers so that
temporary workers be entitled to equal treatment on pay and other employment conditions
from day one of their employment.
5. EU Directive
on Data Protection
UNISON is in favour of a greater
legal protection of workers' personal data and is supportive of a Community directive
on this matter. Existing EC Directives on personal data protection, Directives
95/46/EC and 97/66/EC, are useful but not sufficient with regard to the specificity
of the employment context. There is now a need to take action going beyond the
general data protection principles towards establishing a particular framework
of employment sector specific rules.
Taking into account
the growing number of employees working for companies established in other Member
States, the current impediments to free movement of workers as well as the fundamental
right of non-discrimination, a Community initiative is advisable. This should
take the form of a Directive allowing certain flexibility according to national
6. Privatised Meat Inspection
December 2001 the European Commission published draft proposals to replace the
existing Community legislation concerning the rules for the controls on products
of animal origin intended for human consumption. The Commission stated that the
aim of the proposal was to consolidate and simplify EU food hygiene directives.
However it soon became obvious that this proposal would transfer the emphasis
for the responsibility to produce safe food, away from enforcement authorities
and onto food producers. In short, with this proposal the Commission aimed to
privatise meat inspection ending the independent inspection of our food.
by lobbying directly in Brussels UNISON was successful in persuading the Commission
to change the proposals in a way that made the use of plant staff for meat inspection
more difficult to implement and more gradual in its eventual application. Although
still unhappy at the overall direction of the proposal, we considered that with
these changes it was a substantial improvement on the original draft.
the latest information emanating from Brussels is that certain member states are
lobbying within the Council of Ministers to substantially weaken the new consumer
safety provisions in the final proposal. UNISON and our members working in the
UK meat industry strongly believe that the Council must not be allowed to weaken
the provisions set out in the original Commission proposal. Catherine Stihler
MEP has worked hard to support UNISON's position in the Environment Committee
of the Parliament.
7. EU Enlargement and Migration
supports the enlargement of the European Union from the current 15 member states
to 25 at the time of the European Elections later this year.
takes the view that the free movement of goods, capital and services within the
EU should be matched by freedom for European workers to take jobs anywhere in
the EU. The government must however give urgent attention to accompanying measures
to ensure that migrant workers are fully protected from unscrupulous employers
seeking to exploit the economic disparities between their countries. If such employers
are not restrained, damage is done to both migrant workers and to the indigenous
workforce, as pay, employment conditions and good collective agreements are undermined.
over immigration and asylum will be exploited by the far right BNP in the European
elections. UNISON supports the Scottish Executive's 'Fresh Talent' initiative
that recognises the contribution workers from other EU and non-EU states can make
to Scotland's future prosperity. See separate UNISON briefings on this issue.
Common qualifications will feature in the proposed Directive
on Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications and 'Europass' single framework
for qualifications and skills.
UNISON believes that a European Constitution should
establish a clear set of social objectives for Europe.
a clear social base for the European Union would act as a restraint on the labour
market deregulation currently being pursued by many European governments. UNISON
believes that people, not big business must be put centre stage in Europe.
Economic & Monetary Union
As the largest union
representing public sector workers UNISON is opposed to UK membership of the Euro.
Our principal concern is EMU's impact on public spending, the provision and quality
of public services and the knock-on effect on jobs within the public sector. We
fear that the existing convergence criteria (which limits public expenditure deficit
to 3% of GDP) will effectively cap expenditure for years to come adversely effecting
jobs, pay and terms and conditions in the public sector.
There is a number of other EU developments
of interest to UNISON members including:
- The Irish
government is proposing a ban on smoking in all enclosed places of work, a policy
UNISON is supporting in the Scottish Parliament. Disappointingly, the European
parliament recently voted in favour of retaining tobacco subsidies. Tobacco kills
half a million EU citizens a year.
- The Commission
is proposing a 'thematic strategy' on prevention and recycling of waste. Whilst
generally supportive UNISON has concerns over the application of some environmental
directives. In particular the treatment of waste derived fuel is causing problems
for members in the water and energy service groups.
Directive on Equality of Access to Goods and Services largely covers issues already
prohibited by UK legislation. However, it will expand the provisions to some additional
ACTION FOR BRANCHES
briefing demonstrates that the European Parliament has a significant impact on
UNISON members in Scotland. It highlights issues that can be raised with candidates
in the forthcoming European elections. Branches are asked to encourage members
to engage in this election and in particular to register for a postal vote. Forms
were included in the last edition of 'U' magazine and further copies are available
from the P&I Team.
Gateway to the European Union - http://europa.eu.int/index_en.htm
EU Issues - http://www.tuc.org.uk/international/index.cfm?mins=39
Europa - http://www.scotlandeuropa.com/
Parliament 'Europe Matters' -
Dave Watson - firstname.lastname@example.org
The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572