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Democrat Briefing for Trade Unionists (Number 1)

How the EU state Constitution
affects you

Below are printed some Articles from Title 1, Dignity of the EU Constitution. They are accompanied with "Explanations" which are a legal part of the Treaty*, together with comments - please read them as they affect you directly.

Article 15: Freedom to choose an occupation and right to engage in work

"1) Everyone has the right to engage in work and to pursue a freely chosen or accepted occupation.

"2) Every citizen of the Union (EU) has the freedom to seek employment, to work, to exercise the right of establishment and to provide services in any Member State

"3) Nationals of third countries who are in the territories of the Member States are entitled to working conditions equivalent to those of citizens of the Union."

Comment Currently there are roughly 1.5 million unemployed in Britain according to the government; how will they be able to engage in work or choose an occupation? Is it possible for anyone to choose to work in the civil service (currently attempting to axe 104,000 jobs at Gordon Brown's request) or in the postal service where enforced privatisation is causing closure of post offices due to EU directive 96/67/EC? And what of the chance of jobs in manufacturing when manufacturing jobs are disappearing in thousands monthly due, partly, to EU policy on export of capital?

Agreeing to a constitution will not produce jobs, only a government economic strategy that does not rely on "free competition" can do that but it would be banned by the EU!

Article 28: Right of collective bargaining and action

"Workers and employers, or their respective organisations, have, in accordance with Union law and national laws and practices, the right to negotiate and conclude collective agreements at the appropriate levels and, in cases of conflicts of interests, to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action".

Explanation with this article states in part: "The modalities and limits for the exercise of collective action, including strike action, come under national laws and practices, including the question of whether it may be carried out in parallel in several Member States".

Comment - As collective bargaining and action depend upon national laws nothing changes in Britain unless there is a government at Westminster prepared to change current policy. But then we would not need the EU Constitution and is therefore irrelevant to collective bargaining and action.

Article 27: Workers' right to information and consultation within the undertaking

"Workers or their representatives must, at the appropriate levels, be guaranteed information and consultation in good time in the cases and under the conditions provided for by Union law and national laws and practices".

Comment - As with collective agreements information and consultation are dependent on national laws and national practices. This article shows conclusively that it is no good merely to point at what workers in other European countries (are said to) have as some trade union leaders do. Shortcomings have to be campaigned for in Britain by trade unionists. Again the constitution can be seen to be irrelevant to workers rights and aspirations! Improvement will only come through the actions of trade unionists themselves.

In Germany Siemens workers have agreed to an extension of the working week from 35 to 40 hours for no extra pay in two North Westphalia plants and a Christmas bonus has been stopped. This was agreed to stop jobs being transferred elsewhere; Daimler Chrysler has done something similar.

Art 31: Fair and just working condition

"1) Every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity.

"2) Every worker has the right to limitation of maximum working hours, to daily and weekly rest periods and to an annual paid leave".

The Explanation with this article says it is based on existing EU directives 89/39/EEC and 93/104/EC, Art 3 of the Social Charter and point 19 of the Community Charter on the rights of workers and on Art 26 of the revised Social Charter.

Comment - Although the government has signed up to the Social Charter, all EU treaties and the EU Constitution the H&S Executive has been cut and accidents at work are increasing. Further, many workers work in firms employing less than 20 workers and are not permitted trade union recognition. As a result these workers are often low paid and have to take on two jobs to make both ends meet so there is no limitation of hours for them on hours worked. Elsewhere in the EU Constitution it speaks of equality!

Article 12: Freedom of assembly and of association

"Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association at all levels, in particular in political, trade union and civic matters, which implies the right of everyone to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his or her interests". Explanation.2 states: "No restriction shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the state".

Comment Whilst Art 12 confers the right of assembly and of association it is conditional upon so many things such as "national security", "public safety", "disorder", "health", "morals" and "rights and freedom of others" to be practically meaningless and undermines rights we already have in Britain. But if all the conditions are not fulfilled the state administration, police or even the armed forces can be brought against those involved in assembly or association. Would the massive two million demonstration against the war in Iraq in February 03 or the 27 November 2004 Coventry Jaguar jobs demonstration have been banned on grounds of "public safety", for example, if this Article was in operation? On the basis of this article alone the EU Constitution should be condemned; in the name of freedom freedom is destroyed!

Article 34: Social security and social assistance

This article is too lengthy to quote in full. However it says:- 1) it respects entitlement to social security benefits and social services everyone residing and moving legally within the EU is entitled to social security and the EU respects the right to social housing for those who lack sufficient resources. In each case it is in accordance with EU law and national practices.

Comment - The article does not say is what the level of benefits would be to, say, the level of wages or if they would be means tested. However, existing EU treaties limit government borrowing to 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and debt to 60% of GDP. Therefore there is every incentive to keep benefits low.

* Note. The copy of the EU Constitution used here was obtained from the Minister for Europe Mr MacShane MP, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Notes by Ron Dorman - 22 November 2004