A fundamental EU policy rethink could force the UK to re-draft much of its employment law and lead to far greater trade union power, MEPs have warned.
The consultation period on an EU document about the restructuring of labour laws across the continent closed at the end of last week.
The Green Paper, Modernising Labour Law to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century, wants to update regulations to deal with varying employment contracts.
Increasing numbers of people across Europe are now either self-employed, working part time, or on flexible conditions.
Liz Lynn, Liberal Democrat MEP for the West Midlands, told Personnel Today she feared UK labour market flexibility could take a hammering as a result.
“The worst-case scenario is that we get a single definition of a worker at EU level,” she said. “This would mean, for example, that the self-employed would come under the scope of employment law, which would be disastrous as these workers would be taken into account for collective bargaining.”
Brian Bercusson, a professor at King’s College London, raised fears of increased powers for unions when he spoke at a Green Paper hearing in Brussels last month. “Adaption of labour law should reinforce the collective framework by intervening to support trade union membership and collective bargaining,” he said.
Lynn said she had been terrified by Bercusson’s speech. “Several MEPs were nodding, but it would mean we would have to change the whole system of labour laws in the UK,” she said.
Philip Bushill-Matthews, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, agreed it was important the Green Paper was not used to create more red tape for businesses. “Some people are worried because they think the Left will seize this opportunity to think of every law they could ever want and bring everyone under the same powers.”
The EU’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs will vote on the Green Paper in a plenary session in the summer.