Trade unions will use next month’s TUC conference to demand that UK employment rights mirror those of the rest of Europe.
The move, which will be fiercely opposed by employers, follows claims that unions were “conned” by the government with the so-called ‘Warwick Agreement’ on workers’ rights, reached before the general election.
The UK has some of the least-restrictive labour laws in the EU, but putting the country on par with Europe would mean adopting measures such as the 35-hour working week, which has proved unsuccessful in France.
It could also mean including laws such as the dismissal rules used in Belgium, where businesses have to give significant financial compensation based on years of service, even if the dismissal is for poor performance.
Around 800 trade unionists will gather in Brighton next month, where they will outline the new demands in a document entitled ‘Warwick 2’.
An Amicus spokesman said a lot of the original agreements made in 2004 were “very open-ended”. The Warwick 2 plan calls for more tangible improvements to workplace rights, based on a European model. “We need a level playing field with EU member states – it is much easier to make people redundant in the UK,” he said.
The Gate Gourmet “outrage” was a good illustration of how easy it was to lay off staff at short notice, the spokesman added.
UK employers will balk at the suggestion that employment law should become even tighter.
In areas such as work-life balance and flexible working, the UK has some of the most generous provisions in Europe. In the UK, maternity leave extends to six months, compared to the 14-week EU requirement. The UK also offers paternity leave where other countries, including Austria, Germany and Ireland, have none.
Industry groups such as the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce have warned that any extension of employment rights would further damage UK productivity, which already lags behind its major European rivals.