OK, it's taken me a week to respond.......I have allowed myself a modicum of time to calm down, but however much I try to understand.......I JUST DON'T!
I am talking of course about the campaign to maintain the UK opt out on the Working Time Directive. Hmmmmm yes........an opt out that allows exploitation and abuse of powerless workers to continue. Of course, we are all for that aren't we?
So, how is it that we (for we are all tarred with the Lib Dem brush when pronouncements, however unpalatable are pronounced!) are endorsing a position, which in my view, is contrary to our values. Those who are leading this campaign should know better, people who on other issues bang the drum for equality and fairness, who would throw up their hands in horror at any other oppressive or discriminatory practice.
What I also find astounding is that we have been invited to support this campaign without, as far as I know, any reference to the parliamentary party in Europe! The posting on the Scottish Lib Dem site is misleading, suggesting Lib Dem MEPs voted against, when only some of them did.
Liz Lynne, someone who I know is a staunch campaigner on so many other issues of human rights and equality, has lead the fight to keep the opt out. In a press release in September last year she argued "I welcome attempts to retain the UK's opt out with more stringent conditions on its use, anyone whose work does not have a direct consequence on life and death decisions should have a free choice as to what hours they work, so long as this is truly voluntary." Er.......retained fire fighters? Maybe I am missing something but I always thought they were involved in life and death decisions????
For me there are two important issues.
Firstly - the impact on the individual. Let's not forget, this 48 hour rule applies over a 17 week period, and in some cases longer. It is surely not healthy for anyone to consistently work over 48 hours?
Secondly - the impact on the family and wider society. We already work the longest hours in Europe, we know our children are the unhappiest, why do we think our right to work ridiculous hours is more important than our wider responsibilities to our families and community? Frankly, if someone is consistently working over 48 hours, it suggests to me that there is more than one job there. So, particularly at a time when we are facing mass redundancies, when we are creating a lost generation (40% of unemployed are 16-24), we think it is OK for those who are lucky enough to be in work, to consistently work as long hours as they like. In practice well over 25% more than a normal working week. Now, of course, I accept the argument that for some people they don't get a living wage and need to work those longer hours - but that is a different argument. That is an argument about the level of the minimum wage and level of tax they are expected to pay.
So, to take the Facebook Campaign Group's position to its logical conclusion, I am anti worker, in particular, anti retained fire fighters. Hmmmm, funny that, given that the FBU position is very clear. They took issue with the way the arrangements
- Put employees especially, but not solely new or prospective employees, under pressure to agree to alternative shift systems to those agreed with trade unions; with a view to
- Undermine collective bargaining including collective agreements on shift systems
They had a model letter in the runup to the vote -
Dear [Name of MEP]
As you will be aware there is a vote to take place on 17 December 2008 at the European Parliament on the Second Reading on the Council common position for adopting a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2003/88/EC concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time. The only defence of the UK opt-out that we have been given is that it provides ‘flexibility’. What the opt-out actually provides is the opportunity for employers to abuse their workers – all the flexibility they need is already set out in other parts of the Directive which provides for the 48-hour limit to be averaged over an entire year. It cannot be right for people to be working longer than 48 hours all year round, and indeed there is plenty of evidence that persistently working long hours is bad for people’s health as well as other people’s safety. This should not be a matter of choice – no one argues for an opt-out from the speed limit!I am aware of amendments being proposed by MEP Alejandro Cercas Alonso and would urge you to support those amendments in particular amendments 9 and 11-18. Could I ask that you write to inform me how your vote was cast on this most important matter?
So, it seems to me that we are choosing to be opportunist and bang an anti European drum on an issue we think that will make us look like we are right on with the workers...........except the representatives of those very workers, on this issue, support the current European position.