A force for fairness – what could the European Union do to combat economic inequality?

By 14.04.15PublicationsSeptember 2nd, 2020No Comments

New report examining public attitudes towards existing rights at work guaranteed by EU agreements, and potential ways in which the EU could tackle inequality

UK public supports role for EU in tackling inequality… even though most don’t realise the role already played by Europe in guaranteeing rights at work!

Most British workers have no idea of the importance of the European Union in guaranteeing many of their key rights at work, according to a new research published today by the High Pay Centre think-tank. Rights including holiday pay, regular breaks at work and a maximum working week of 48 hours are guaranteed as a result of the EU Working Time Directive, yet just 25% of those polled by ICM for the High Pay Centre, knew that these rights originated at EU level.

The findings suggest that UK workers are unaware that their working conditions could be dramatically affected by plans to re-negotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership. Influential eurosceptics have argued that the reform of laws guaranteeing workers’ rights should be a priority for any re-negotiation.

The High Pay Centre polling found that 49% of respondents supported the principle of common standards for workers’ rights across Europe, against just 30% who said countries should be free to set their own rights and compete with other EU countries.

The polling also found that:

  • 70% of respondents supported the EU bankers’ bonus cap, limiting bankers’ bonuses to twice their annual salary
  • 59% support a European-wide corporation tax floor, whereby European countries agree not to reduce tax on big companies below a certain level
  • 60% support a wealth tax on the richest EU citizens, such as that proposed by the French economist Thomas Piketty in his best-selling book ‘Capital in the 21st Century’
  • 66% support a European wide pay cap, limiting the pay of company executives to a fixed multiple of their lowest paid employee.

The report argues that the EU could play a leading role in reducing inequality, while the role for Europe in preventing a ‘race to the bottom’ on workers’ rights should be a key part of the case for Britain’s ongoing membership of the EU.

High Pay Centre Deborah Hargreaves said: Pro-Europeans have focused on the benefits to business of EU membership, but the benefits to workers need to be part of the debate as well.

In an increasingly global economy, working with other European countries to agree common standards on workers’ rights, as well as on issues like tax and top pay, is vital to ensuring a fairer, more prosperous UK

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