When stating the case for remaining in the EU, many Trade Unionists and MPs open with an incredibly unenthusiastic line which goes something like this; “we know that the EU isn’t perfect, but…” It is a cliché which is so crass, it can only be outstripped by the invention of the word Brexit. This ‘not perfect’ line regularly comes from those who voted to leave the EU in the 1975 referendum, and it is clear that although views have softened many Trade Unionists still feel uneasy about the UK being in the EU. But can any of us afford to have this debate when opinion polls are so close, and so much is at stake? Instead, surely it is time to focus on two key things; the first being our duty to vote in the best interests of the young – those who will be most influenced by any outcome – and the second to acknowledge what EU membership has achieved for workers since 1975.
In light of the latter point, the TUC has very helpfully produced a document outlining the EU influence on employment rights in the UK. The document covers a range of employment rights from equal pay (which is enshrined in the EU treaty) to the Working Time Directive. This directive introduced the 48 hour maximum working week, including a daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours. While euro-sceptics might argue that these rights are equally enshrined in UK law, our membership to the EU ensures their protection from any government which may seek to remove them. Protecting these laws is paramount under a Tory government who are already planning to denigrate workers rights through the Trade Union Bill. The spirit in which these rights are enjoyed is as true in the UK as it is in any other EU country, and as advocates for fairness and social justice we should be proud to know that these rights are upheld for colleagues across the continent.
In December 2015, MPs voted to block a move by the House of Lords which would have seen 16 and 17 year old’s vote in the EU referendum. Given the gap between this EU referendum and the previous one, 16 and 17 year old’s could be well over 50 before having their say on EU membership. They could spend the majority of their life influenced by the decisions of those who – among other things – have already been through the education system, bought their own home and started to withdraw their pension. The success and viability of all three of those things are undoubtedly linked to the outcome of the referendum. Separate to the EU debate, young workers are already getting a raw deal. The minimum wage for 16 and 17 year old’s is £4 an hour – 80% lower than the rate for over 25s. Given the existence of this pay gap and the very fact that young people are not even trusted to vote in the referendum, there is little evidence that the situation for young people would be likely to improve in light of leaving the EU.
We know the EU isn’t perfect, but voting to leave under a Tory government in an election which does not dispense the right to vote to those likely to be most affected by its outcome comes with a dubious moral basis. We know much more about what we could give up than what we are bound to achieve by leaving, is it really worth taking such a gamble?