28th Sep 2023

British strikes take on EU dimension

  • Striking workers in Britain have been given some support in Brussels (Photo: EUobserver)

A series of strikes in Britain revolving around a key EU internal market law have taken on a European dimension as a group of leftist MEPs take up the protesters' cause.

Five MEPs from the Socialist, Green and leftist factions in the European Parliament on Wednesday (4 February) signed a declaration pledging to veto the swearing in of the next European Commission in autumn if the law is not changed.

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Their move comes as Britain has been struck by a series of strikes after Total, in charge of the Lindsey refinery in north-east England, hired an Italian company to carry out a temporary project.

The Italian firm plans to use Italian and Portuguese workers for the job, something it is entitled to do under the EU's posted workers directive, which allows foreign companies to use its workers so long as they are hired under the same conditions as local workers.

However, left-wing politicians and trade unions say the law is open to abuse as companies, while obliged to pay the minimum wage, do not have to abide by local collective agreements.

"It's clear that the Posted Workers Directive needs to be revised, so that its original intention, to provide equal treatment for all workers, is upheld," said British Green MEP Caroline Lucas.

British Labour MEP Stephen Hughes said: "We do not accept that any worker should be open to exploitation as a consequence of exercising the right to free movement."

A majority of MEPs would have to vote against the European Commission if the veto threat were to be upheld.

Chris Coakley, spokesman for the Greens, conceded that five MEPs out of a current total of 785 deputies was not very many but he said "they do represent a wide group of parties."

"If it is clear that the commission is not interested in this, then it is something that could grow. It could become much more of a big issue."

Earlier this week, the European Commission indicated that it would not revise the directive and underlined that open borders rather than moves towards protectionism would be the best way to fight the current global economic crisis.

The European Parliament for its part has already flexed its muscles concerning the investiture of the current commission in 2004, forcing commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, to change the college's line-up.

The victory gave the parliament extra political powers which they are keen to re-use.

However, it is unclear how much support this declaration on the posted workers directive will receive from the centre-right European People's Party, currently the biggest faction in the EU assembly.

To have political effect, a declaration needs to be signed by a majority of MEPs.


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