Author: Luke Lythgoe
Forget Brexiter scaremongering that the only way to stop cheap European labour from undercutting British workers was to leave the EU. The European Parliament has just voted for new rules to tackle this exact problem. This shows the UK can combat exploitative employers and build a fairer labour market by pushing for reform from inside the EU.
The new rules should also be welcomed by Jeremy Corbyn, who used a speech in February to attack employers importing “cheap agency labour to undercut existing pay and conditions”. With polls suggesting almost three quarters of Labour voters now think Brexit is a bad decision, the party leadership would do well to break from its current ambiguous Brexit policy and to build these new rules into a positive, left-wing vision against Brexit.
The EU’s revised rules for posted workers do several important things. Most crucial for the UK’s Brexit debate, all workers brought in from other EU countries must have pay and working conditions equal to local workers. This would stop unscrupulous employers undercutting the local labour force by paying lower wages to foreign workers.
The tightened rules will also protect the posted workers themselves – something which ought to appeal to Corbyn. Travel, board and accommodation costs must now be paid by the employer – not docked from workers’ wages.
Postings will usually be limited to 12 months, with a possible six month extension. After that, workers will fall under the labour rules of the country where they are working. There will also be greater protection against fraudulent postings. All 28 EU members now have two years to implement the new rules.
So by leaving the EU, we will now be leaving a system which aims to keep rogue employers in check and create a level playing field across the entire European labour market. That’s a new fact since the Brexit vote in 2016.
The UK should keep pushing for fairness from inside the EU. As philanthropist George Soros said yesterday, this moment of crisis is a great opportunity for the EU to “reinvent itself”. There are signs that many across the EU feel the same. The UK should be at the table, leading this reinvention.
Our alternative post-Brexit system, on the other hand, could quickly become rife with abuse – the opposite of what Brexiters promised during the referendum. No more free movement, plus the government’s obsession with their “tens of thousands” net migration target, could see key sectors starved of low-skilled labour. One solution for employers would be to turn to the black market.
With the government’s post-Brexit migration plans still far from clear, it’s even possible that some EU nationals working here legally now could become illegal by administrative accident. That means no regulation – a perfect opportunity for unprincipled employers to exploit.
The posted worker reform is just one of many new facts which have emerged since the referendum – and yet another reason that the people should get a vote on the final Brexit deal.