UK trade union leaders call on 6 million members to vote remain

PM attends European Council

The leaders of Britain’s biggest trade unions have issued a plea to 6 million members to vote to stay in the EU, warning that leaving would allow a Tory government to dismantle hard-won worker rights around parenting, holiday and equality.

In a joint intervention, the general secretaries of Unite, Unison, the GMB and Usdaw were among 10 trade union leaders warning that the Conservatives would “negotiate away our rights” if the UK decides to leave.

They argued leaving the EU would pose a great threat to maternity and paternity pay and leave, the right to paid leave for holidays and equal treatment for full, part-time and agency workers.

Their decision to fight for the UK to remain was not straightforward, as some including Unite boss Len McCluskey had hinted last year that they could back a vote to leave if David Cameron tried to water down worker rights as part of his EU negotiation.

However, in a letter to the Guardian, the 10 trade union leaders said they were clear that the social and cultural benefits of remaining in the EU far outweigh any advantages of leaving, while acknowledging it needs to change and “move away from a path of austerity”.

“Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s the British trade union movement worked in solidarity with our European partners and fought hard to secure valuable working rights legislation at EU level,” they said. “To this day these rights – including maternity and paternity rights, equal treatment for full time, part-time and agency workers and the right to paid leave – continue to underpin and protect working rights for British people.

“If Britain leaves the EU we are in no doubt these protections would be under great threat. Despite words to the contrary from figures like Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove, the Tories would negotiate our exit and, we believe, would negotiate away our rights. We simply do not trust this government if they are presented with an unrestricted, unchecked opportunity to attack our current working rights.”

The Labour leader has ruled out sharing a platform with Tories to make the case to stay in. But remain campaigners will stage a cross-party show of support today with Harriet Harman, Labour’s former interim leader, joining David Cameron, Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, and Natalie Bennett, the Green leader, to make the case for EU membership.

Jointly they will accuse the leave campaign of “perpetuating an economic con-trick” on voters and challenge Gove and Johnson to outline their financial plan for life after Brexit. They will also claim the leave camp has tried to model their plan for trading on 23 different countries.

In response, Matthew Elliott, chief executive of Vote Leave, said it was “desperate stuff from an increasingly desperate campaign” and a “panicking” No 10.

A new YouGov poll for ITV’s Good Morning Britain is the latest to suggest support for leave has increased. It showed a four-point lead for the Brexit camp with 45% of people surveyed, compared with 41% for remain, and 11% undecided.

The trade union leaders’ message was echoed by Hilary Benn, shadow foreign secretary, who highlighted the claim of Priti Patel, a Conservative employment minister campaigning for Brexit, that she would like to “halve the burden of the EU social and employment legislation”.

Along with Angela Eagle, the shadow business secretary, will on Monday issue a direct challenged to the leave campaign to be more specific about which rights they want to scrap. Writing in the Guardian, he said: “It’s time for you to come clean: which rights that the European Union today guarantees for British workers do you want to get rid of if we leave?”

He pointed to some of the protections guaranteed by the EU including the minimum of four weeks paid holiday; 11 consecutive hours of rest in any 24-hour period; a 20-minute rest break if the working day is longer than six hours; a minimum of one day off each week, a working week limited to on average 48 hours a week; and limits to night work of an average eight hours in any 24-hour period.”

The leave campaign has repeatedly stressed that they would not touch basic worker rights, while pointing out that British holiday rights and maternity leave are much more generous than the EU minimums.

Last week, Patel said the idea that leaving the EU would undermine employment rights was “nonsense” and “one of the biggest myths”. “We have been ahead of the curve for decades setting employment rights,” she said.

The interventions from trade unions and senior Labour figures take place amid worries within the remain camp that leftwing voters may not turn out to cast their ballot to stay because they do not want to be on the same side as Cameron or they regard the whole debate as a Tory war. A remain campaign memo leaked to the Guardian last week suggested only half of Labour voters were clear about the party’s position.

John Prescott, the Labour peer and former deputy prime minister, told the BBC’s Sunday Politics he was concerned about the dominance of Conservative voices. “Where’s Labour? It seems like we’re just enjoying the fight between the Tories. We’re not putting across the arguments,” he said.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has moved from his historic position as a Eurosceptic to advocating a vote to remain in the EU, said criticism from some Labour figures that he was not campaigning passionately enough was unfair. “We’re not giving a blank cheque to the EU. We want a Europe where there is solidarity of socialist parties, trade unions, people who want to see a decent society, welfare state, NHS, full employment, decent right at work.”

The Labour leader has ruled out sharing a platform with Tories to make the case to stay in, but Harriet Harman, the Labour former interim leader, will join with Cameron, Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, and Natalie Bennett, the Green leader, to make the case for remain on Monday.

Jointly, they will accuse the leave campaign of “perpetuating an economic con-trick” on voters and challenge Gove and Johnson to outline their financial plan for life after Brexit. They will also claim the leave camp has tried to model their plan for trading on 23 different countries.

In response, Matthew Elliott, chief executive of Vote Leave, said it was “desperate stuff from an increasingly desperate campaign” and a “panicking” No 10.

The leave camp will hold their own event in the Midlands on Monday with Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Labour MP Gisela Stuart claiming that the EU has been waiting to charge the UK another £2.4bn after the referendum to fill a black hole in its coffers.

‘The risks of remain are massive ... if we vote to stay the British people will be on the hook for even more cash,” Johnson said last night. “It is a triple whammy of woe: the eurozone is being strangled by stagnation, unemployment and a lack of growth, it could explode at any time and we will be forced to bail it out.

“The botched bureaucratic response to the migration crisis means the Eurocrats are demanding even more of our money. And now we find that there is a £20bn black hole in the EU’s finances.”

Peter Mandelson, the Labour peer and former cabinet minsiter, will also give a speech on Monday saying a vote to remain will lay to rest all the “grandiose, mellifluous bullshit” from anti-EU campaigners for the forseeable future.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for The Guardian on Sunday 5th June 2016 22.30 Europe/London

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