From the TUC

Taking away workers’ rights will make Brexit more likely says TUC poll

26 May 2015, By

As Nigel Stanley reported on Touchstone last week, we had an opinion poll in the field immediately after the election, to find out more about why people voted the way we did. We held a few of the findings back from the main release, though, because they were about the hot story of this week – the EU referendum. And as Frances O’Grady wrote in her open letter to business leaders in this morning’s Financial Times, our polling found that taking away workers’ rights would make Brexit more likely.

The reason this matters is because some business leaders and Conservative politicians are choosing to interpret public concern about ‘EU red tape’ as an opportunity to strip away workers’ rights. No one in the business community genuinely believes that paid holidays, parental leave or fairness for agency workers are holding the British economy back, but they wouldn’t say no to getting shot of those rights if they thought they could get away with it, and they would be very pleased with a cast iron pledge that there will be no further rights for workers (even though they’ve always opposed new rights until they are enacted, like the National Minimum Wage.) We know that what they want much, much more, is access to the European single market and the inward investment that comes from UK membership of the EU.

Actually, those employment rights are popular (which is hardly surprising, really), but – as work by the High Pay Centre showed last month, people don’t always associate them with the European Union and don’t know they could lose those rights if we left the EU, or if Conservatives and business leaders got their way. So taking those rights away would jeopardise the chances of Britain voting to stay in.

Our poll shows that 55 per cent of the public would be more supportive of Britain’s membership of Europe if it did more to help working people get decent pay and conditions at work. By contrast, fewer than one in four (23 per cent) say they would be more supportive of the UK’s EU membership if it did more to cut red tape on businesses.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“This poll should be a warning shot to business leaders and politicians. If they opportunistically use re-negotiation to call for weaker employment rights they will make getting a ‘yes’ vote much harder. Support for staying in Europe will haemorrhage if ordinary Britons feel their working lives are going to be made worse.

“Chipping away at paid holidays, rest breaks, maternity rights and fair treatment for part-time and agency workers is the last thing people want. Europe is at its best when it meets the interests of both business and workers. Abandoning this blueprint would be a disaster for the UK and the EU.”

So we will be campaigning for the rest of the year to oppose any renegotiation of workers’ rights, and working with our colleagues across Europe to prevent their governments giving ground to Davis Cameron on this issue.

Respondents were asked which of the following statements they agreed with most strongly:

  1. I would be more supportive of Britain’s membership of Europe if it did more to help working people get decent pay and conditions at work; and
  2. I would be more supportive of Britain’s membership of Europe if it did more to cut red tape on businesses.

30% agreed with statement 1 strongly, and 24% somewhat (rounding brings overall agreement to 55%), whereas only 10% agreed with statement 2 strongly, and a further 13% somewhat. Neither scored 13% and 9% didn’t know.