Working against the clock to fight Brexit damage


Posted by Geoff Bishop.

Written by Kenny MacAskill.

WITH the UK Cabinet meeting to try to sort out its position on post-Brexit trade deals, I can only wish it good luck – it’s clear there’s little give from the remaining 27 nor much push for it from the rest of the world. The munificent bounty that awaited post-Brexit Britain has been exposed not as a mirage, but a complete lie. All that before years of intricate negotiations can take place, even if there are any potential takers.

However, what’s becoming clearer is the society that the Brexiters envisage. A leading advocate for it has always been Michael Gove, even willing to knife his co-conspirators, never mind stab his own Prime Minister and party leader, in pursuit of it. Not only does his vision encompass the potential of chlorinated chicken for consumers but a lifetime of struggle for workers. It’s no longer just that you’ll have to work until you drop before being eligible for a pension but you’ll need to work all hours God gives just to earn a wage to live on.

That’s exposed in Mr Gove’s comments on the Working Time Directive (WTD) if reports are to be believed. They give an insight into the future world the Brexiters seek and further expose the lies they told about the EU in their campaign to leave. For they envisage the UK as a neoliberal paradise where needless rules are rolled back from decades of Brussels bureaucrats. In fact, what they seek to replace are hard-won employment rights; In their place will be a harsh and vindictive landscape where workers’ rights are lost and the environment jeopardised.

The WTD is in many ways a microcosm for the EU debate. It did cause issues but equally brought many benefits. Managers and administrators in the health and police services, amongst many workplaces, bemoaned their limitation in employee timetabling and scheduling. They complained about a lack of flexibility, a euphemism often used by the likes of Mr Gove for the crushing of workers’ rights. Meanwhile junior doctors, police constables and many others in more humble roles, such as in in shops or agriculture ,appreciated the benefits it brought. No more would they work to the point of exhaustion or face hours that affected their health, never mind their family life.

Of course, there were issues with WTD and I recall seeking greater flexibility on some issues in both health and transport. It wasn’t just in fishing or on ferries where British representation sold Scotland out. HGV drivers on the islands were deemed to be working and their hours constrained when sitting in the cafeteria on a ferry even when they didn’t drive it on, let alone when aboard. Likewise, surgeons being chauffeur-driven from Fort William to Skye, even if sleeping in the back seat saw their clock ticking.

I don’t support the abuse of staff through long hours being worked in any sector and I recognise that they’re necessary for the protection of us all, whether on the roads or in hospitals. However, I could see arguments for some flexibility on occasion, albeit with the workers’ consent.

Tachograph rules are necessary not just for congested motorways in England but also in Scotland. However, a driver returning to the West Midlands could easily get home or have the route scheduled accordingly. In the Highlands or south-west Scotland it’s far harder and, subject to safety considerations, another hour or two might get them home without endangering all, rather than being stuck in the middle of nowhere. If the driver just wants to get back to his bed and it was neither a danger nor an abuse, then let him be able to justify why he breached them rules.

But, those issues arose not through EU rules but UK interpretation of them. Other jurisdictions, whether in France or the Irish Republic, were far more flexible whilst still protecting workers, not just in those trades but also in fields, shops and anywhere else where abuse might take place.

Mr Gove and his ilk have eschewed any desire to allow for a modicum of flexibility in issues caused by Scottish geography and demography. They’ve failed to make any changes that could mitigate the margins but protect the core, as they seek fundamental change to allow for employers to impose longer hours and afford fewer protections. It’s a Dickensian model of employment that they hanker for, as they take Britain back to a Golden Age as they see it – or Hard Times as the rest of us do.

It shows what’s to be feared in their future plans but also what the benefits of independent Scottish membership of the EU could be. Staying in and representing ourselves would allow for the EU-wide protections to remain but the particular needs of our country to be taken into account.

The Scottish Herald