More rights for workers

Workers rights in the UK lag behind those of almost every other European country.

Workers rights in the UK lag behind those of almost every other European country, causing greater numbers of job losses here says Amicus, the UK’s largest manufacturing, technical & skilled persons’ union.

According to Amicus, workers in the UK are more vulnerable to layoffs than their counterparts in the rest of Europe when multinationals make job cuts. Amicus says that’s because the rights of workers in the UK are the weakest in Europe and, among the richest industrialised nations, only the US has weaker job protection.

Amicus maintains it’s no coincidence that the UK displayed the highest number of the restructuring cases announced across the EU during the last three months of 2004 and it is urging a third term Labour government to strengthen employment protection.

The UK also has the highest number of redundancies. Of the 69 restructuring cases recorded by the European Restructuring Monitor for the UK, 57 involved job losses in excess of 100 – the highest rate in all the 18 EU countries monitored.

Amicus argues that UK workers are also being disadvantaged by other countries willingness to intervene when indigenous companies are facing difficulty. For example, the French government supported engineering company Alstom in 2003, saving it bankruptcy, to the tune of €3.2 billion, with €8 m from the public purse. By comparison, over 2,000 Alstom jobs have been cut in the UK in the UK over the last twelve months.

Amicus also said that the job cuts made by Marconi earlier this month were more evidence for the need to give UK workers stronger employment rights. The company closed a plant in Coventry, transferring the 450 jobs to Italy. Amicus say UK workers would not be the automatic choice for redundancy if they shared equivalent rights with continental workers.

“In an increasingly global economy, multinational companies will always chose to make job cuts where it is cheaper, quicker and more politically expedient to sack. The ‘flexible workforce’ makes no sense – it just enables quality jobs to be easily disposed of, resulting in a de-skilling of the economy,” said Amicus General Secretary, Derek Simpson.

“Unless we have employment protection parity with other European countries, UK workers will continue to be the soft touch when it comes to slashing jobs,” he added.

In France, when more than 50 workers jobs are at risk the employer has to propose a social compensation plan. The employer is also obliged to study suggestions from trade unions for mitigating the job losses. The trade union’s work committee may also employs an accountant, paid for by the company, to examine the redundancy proposal and has 20-22 days to produce a report.

Again, in Germany, when more than 50 workers are involved in redundancy, the company has to negotiate a social compensation plan with the works council and in Belgium, employers have by law, to implement collective redundancy procedures. Their law states that any state subsidies received over a period of five years before redundancies must be repaid by any company not adhering to the consultation regulations.

By contrast, the UK has 30 days with view to reaching an agreement with no requirement beyond agreeing a method of selecting redundant employees. Minimum compensation is just £280 a week for a maximum of 30 weeks.

Amicus say that legal provisions covering industrial action are also stronger in the rest of Europe. In the UK, there is no “right to strike”, whereas in continental Europe the right to strike is included in the constitutional rights of all workers.