What has the EU ever done for us?

We’ve all gone a bit UKIP mental these days according to much of the press. The European elections, By-election success, defecting MP’s and higher climbing opinion polls give UKIP a much nicer seat at the political dinner table where you get to take part in all the fancy debates (locally sourced British food only, nothing Green). With the surge of interest they’re receiving, both the Tories and Labour have adopted more policies with a tougher line on immigration. It seems like going against the grain of the European Union is the ‘in thing’ on the agenda at Westminster, but many people may be unaware of what EU legislation offers them.

Robert Holland (photo courtesy of Balfour and Manson)

Robert Holland (photo courtesy of Balfour and Manson)

To Robert Holland, Solicitor for Edinburgh employment law firm Balfour and Manson, it’s his nine to five. “I can’t imagine a day at work as an employment lawyer without a reference to some EU law.”Off the top of his head, impressively so, he fires off five of the ways that the EU affects all of us as employees.

“1) The UK Working Time Regulations are based on the European Working Time Directive which seeks to prevent employees working excessive hours and ensure they receive adequate rest breaks and four weeks’ paid holiday a year.

2) The Treaty on the Functioning of the EU sets out that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. The Equal Pay Act 1970, since replaced by the Equality Act 2010, enshrines this concept into UK law.

3) In fact, almost all of our anti-discrimination legislation can be traced back to a European Union directive including protection against discrimination on grounds of sex, gender identity, race, ethnic origin, colour, nationality, age, disability, pregnancy and maternity, marital or civil partnership status, religion or belief and sexual orientation

4) The TUPE regulations protect employees when the business or undertaking in which they work is taken over by another employer. These regulations play a huge part in modern UK employment law and exist as a result of the EU Acquired Rights Directive.

5) The EU Temporary Workers Directive is implemented in UK law by the Agency Worker Regulations which provide for fair treatment of agency workers. This includes regulation of basic working conditions including remuneration, paid holidays, working hours, overtime, maternity and anti-discrimination provisions and equal access to collective facilities.”

As you can see, there’s a whole lot for Balfour and Manson to work with. However with rising support for UKIP, it may be that the UK exits the EU. This is something that Robert has concerns over. “If the UK withdraws from the EU, the impact would be significant because so much of UK law is effectively European. I suspect employees would still expect to receive paid holidays, equal pay between men and woman and protection against discrimination. Many employers will have incorporated these rights into their contracts of employment and their policies and procedures. It would be difficult to retract them and it certainly wouldn’t be popular, even among UKIP voters! I’m not sure how much withdrawal from the EU would achieve. We could see a gradual erosion of employee rights in the long-term depending on the political persuasion of government.”

It’s all starting to feel like that scene from The Life of Brian where John Cleese asks “What have the Romans ever done for us?” followed by a response listing many of the benefits the Romans brought. While UKIP may gather more and more influence over voters and politicians, it’s important, Robert feels, to think about the benefits that the EU brings to us. “There are those who will argue the EU is bureaucratic and anti-business but as far as I am concerned, equal treatment and ensuring health and safety at work are laudable aims. The principles clearly protect employees, but they also promote ethical business which I would argue is a selling point for business in the modern world.”


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