Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund


Brexit: a trade union agenda

Brexit is a fact - but what will it look like? We need workers' rights, decent jobs and good wages! Frances O'Grady, Secretary General of the British Trade Union Confederation (TUC), outlines the demands the British government needs to meet in order to bring the people of Great Britain and Europe forward.

British voters have voted by a small majority, but decisively, and on a large turnout, to leave the European Union. The TUC, which campaigned alongside all our largest unions, to remain in the EU, accepts that decision.

Most trade union members voted to stay, but significant numbers voted to leave, and we need to understand why that was.

People also voted against the establishment

Many people who voted to leave were concerned about immigration, and a lot of those who voted to remain were too. But this wasn’t just a vote about migration: a majority of voters, including a majority of those who voted to leave, want to protect the right to remain for EU citizens living and working in the UK, and we are part of a broad-based coalition calling for a unilateral step from the British government before Brexit negotiations begin[1].

Large numbers of people also voted against the establishment. And our polling shows that no one voted for worse or fewer jobs, and no one - beyond a small minority of right-wing politicians and bad bosses - wants leaving the EU to undermine workplace rights. So the TUC’s top priority is to protect working people’s jobs, living standards and rights at work.

A new fair deal for working people

That’s why we are calling for a new deal for working people to be put at the heart of the government’s Brexit negotiation strategy. Most people agree that the balance of power in our country has swung too far against ordinary people. They see it in pay packets that are too small, too many jobs that are lousy and rights at work that simply haven’t kept pace with changes in the real world of work, and which Employment Tribunal fees make too expensive to enforce. That’s partly what people were voting against in the referendum.

Nobody has a crystal ball to predict the outcome of negotiations and what the new relationship between Britain and the EU will be. The TUC understands that, by definition, any negotiation involves trade-offs and compromise, even while recognising fundamental principles. But we do know what a fair trade deal would look like.

A goog deal for British workers - and working people across Europe

A good deal for British workers – and for working people across the rest of Europe - would deliver more skilled jobs, protect rights and strengthen people’s voice at work. In contrast, bad trade deals destroy jobs, weaken working people’s rights and put public services at risk of privatisation. 

Nor does anyone expect a running commentary on negotiations. But the British people do have a right to know what kind of deal the government is seeking and the government should expect to be held to account. That’s why the TUC has consistently argued for transparency in trade deals and the negotiations with the EU are no exception. We want the government to give the nations, city mayors and unions, as well as business, seats at the Brexit negotiating table.

Our guidelines for negociation

At this stage the Government must set out its guiding principles for negotiation. The TUC believes that the Government should:

·    promote good jobs by maintaining the EU as our largest trading partner, exporting our goods to the EU tariff-free and without cumbersome rules of origin requirements and other non-tariff barriers, as well as providing services in other EU countries without restrictions;

·    protect workers’ rights by enforcing the highest regulatory standards in Europe, especially when it comes to employment, but also consumer and environmental protections; and

·    manage migration better[2] by guaranteeing local people opportunities for better jobs and apprenticeships, closer to home, especially in towns and communities hit hard by previous recessions; cracking down on bad employers who use migrants to undercut wages; strengthening union voice; and easing pressure on housing, schools, hospitals and other public services by using tax gains to better fund them[3].

Deliver decent jobs and wages

These objectives would, we believe, secure good jobs at good wages for working people in manufacturing and services, including in the supply chains that export industries depend on. That would also provide the taxes to sustain good quality public services including a major expansion of house building,

The government can also act now to improve the ability of the British economy to deliver decent jobs and wages across the country. The TUC has long argued that Britain needs an industrial strategy that combines investment in infrastructure; a plan to develop workforce skills, and the employee engagement needed to ensure that these skills are used effectively at work; smart procurement policy to ensure we are maximising the potential to increase jobs at home, and a clear strategy to take advantage of the opportunities for new technology to help meet our climate commitments.

This would be a unique British model for a relationship with the rest of the European Union – specifically tailored to the needs of the British economy and British people. At present, the only way that the TUC can see we could achieve the objectives set out above would be through continued membership of the single market, which we should still be seeking to improve even from outside the EU – not just for our own direct benefit, but also so that the rest of the EU remains a rich and growing market where we can export our goods and services.

Do not undermine our existing rights

Membership of the single market would deliver not only the economic and trade benefits we are seeking, but continued compliance with the workplace rights that are one of the most popular elements of EU membership. We have secured promises from the Government that they will not undermine our existing rights – although we need guarantees rather than promises – but we also want to make sure that the UK does not fall behind the rest of the EU when new rights are secured.

This is not only for the benefit of British workers. If British workers’ rights fall behind those across the rest of the EU, then we could become an offshore cheap labour zone, undermining the rights and jobs of workers everywhere in Europe. Together, we can resist this race to the bottom.

[1] The European Trade Union Confederation has also called on governments in countries remaining in the EU to do likewise for UK citizens living and working abroad:

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Frances O'Grady
Frances O'Grady ist seit 2013 Generalsekretärin des britischen Gewerkschaftsbundes TUC (Trades Union Congress). Zuvor war sie seit 2003 stellvertretende TUC-Generalsekretärin.
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