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Briefing on European Policy Issues (Briefing No. 76 April 2004)


Currently 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.

This 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

10. Others




1. General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)

The mandate 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.

In 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.


UNISON concerns with GATS

1. Article 1.3

UNISON beliefs that the ambiguity of Article 1.3 gives no reason to be confident about the exclusion of public and government Services form GATS.

2. Privatisation

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.

3. Service Sectors


We 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.


Further 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.

Energy Services

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.

Environmental 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

UNISON is concerned at the European Commission's continued and accelerated liberalisation agenda as outlined in its Internal Market Strategy - Priorities 2003 - 2006.

Of 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

In 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 Directive

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.

4. Temporary 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.

However, 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 a year.

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 specificities.

6. Privatised Meat Inspection

In 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.

However, 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.

However, 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

UNISON 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.

UNISON 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.

Fears 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.

8.European Constitution

UNISON believes that a European Constitution should establish a clear set of social objectives for Europe.

Establishing 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.

9. 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.

10. Others

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.
  • The 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 areas.


This 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.




EUROPA Gateway to the European Union - http://europa.eu.int/index_en.htm


TUC EU Issues - http://www.tuc.org.uk/international/index.cfm?mins=39


Scotland Europa - http://www.scotlandeuropa.com/


Scottish Parliament 'Europe Matters' -




Contacts list:

Dave Watson - d.watson@unison.co.uk

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572

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Further Information

EUROPA Gateway to the European Union - http://europa.eu.int/index_en.htm

TUC EU Issues - http://www.tuc.org.uk/

Scotland Europa

Scottish Parliament 'Europe Matters' -


Contacts list:

Dave Watson -

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572