Precarious recovery: Restoring decent jobs at the European level

15 November 2014

Zero hour contracts have hit the headlines in the UK, and rightly so there are 1.4 million British workers on these contracts. But they are not just an issue here, they’re increasingly an problem across the whole of Europe too. With unemployment rates perilously high across the European Union, should we be trying to create jobs at any cost? Or should the focus be on creating good quality jobs with decent security, which allow people to know how much they will be earning from month to month?

Having jobs at any cost is not the basis of a sustainable recovery for the UK or Europe, for that we need good well-paid jobs. As an MEP for the North East of England I am working to ensure that terms and conditions are improved across Europe. Of course in the UK we have a lot to thank the EU for already, including entitlements to paid holidays, equal pay and healthier, safer workplaces.

Recently, this has seen the extension of rights for temporary agency workers through EU rules. The Temporary Agency Work Directive should mean that those employed through agencies should have the same rights as other employees who do the same work. Today, I am working to ensure that the rights for agency workers are entitled to are applied across the EU and so I’m delighted to hear that the CWU has convinced BT to convert more of their temporary agency contracts into permanent posts.

We need to make sure that where we do improve workers’ rights they are effectively implemented and not ignored by employers. I’m glad my own party, Labour, has committed to closing loopholes in the UK implementation of the directive, to ensure that equal pay means equal pay. We need a continued focus on the development of workers’ rights, in order to balance changes in labour market and attempts by unscrupulous employers to dodge their obligations.

Nothing demonstrates this better than the explosion in zero hours contracts in the last 5 years. They are damaging to the economy and damaging to people’s quality of life. While many people would like more flexibility around their working time, the way these contracts are structured at the moment means the costs and burden of flexibility is all on the part of the worker and not the employer.

For many people, zero hours contracts mean a return to the casualised workforce of the 19th Century with a 21st Century twist: being informed of work and sacked often by text message or email. So I’m delighted that Labour have an election pledge to tackle zero hour contracts, but I believe we need to go further and work together on rules at a European level. That’s why I’m about to help launch a Europe-wide campaign against zero hours contracts.

I have a vision of a social Europe that works for ordinary people and protects workers’ rights – please join me to make this vision a reality. Tell us your experience of precarious work and help us close the loopholes in your rights at work.

This blog is published on the TUC site here

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