Trade unions back free movement for EU workers

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) yesterday adopted a motion at its annual Congress calling for the defence of existing free movement of labour within the European Economic Area. It also calls for an up-front guarantee for existing EU/EEA citizens in the UK to stay, live and work after the UK withdraws from the EU.

The motion also calls on the TUC to highlight the contribution of EU nationals to the UK, and to publicise the benefits of migrants from across the globe.

The composite motion (see the full motion here) merged a number of different motions submitted to the Congress agenda by the University and College Union (UCU), the Equity actors’ union and the Musicians Union.

Moving the motion, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said that free movement “should not just be for capital, but for working people too.”

Some union delegations, including the Communication Workers Union and the UK’s largest union Unite expressed reservations about the motion (although the Unite delegation then voted for it) because of concerns about free movement being used to increase exploitation in the labour market and claims about migration leading to lower wages (and also because this could be seen as ignoring the concerns of workers who voted to leave the EU in last year’s referendum partly as a rejection of free movement).

Responding to these concerns, Hunt stressed that the blame for labour exploitation lies with bad employers not migrants. “Employers depress wages, not migrants” Hunt said.  

Hunt also stressed the contribution of migrants to the economy, to education and research, and the NHS. Migrants “are saving the NHS”, Hunt said.

The Congress also adopted a TUC General Council statement (the General Council is the governing body of the TUC bringing together the general secretaries and other representatives of the affiliated unions) calling for any final post-Brexit settlement “to give certainty to EU nationals living in the UK, and UK nationals living in the EU – principally, the right to remain and to family reunion.”

“The proposals put forward by the EU and the British government fall far short of what is needed. We will continue to press for all workers here and UK workers in the rest of the EU to have the same rights as they did before the referendum” the statement said.

The General Council statement also called for “all options” to be kept on the table in the Brexit negotiations, and said that any long-term deal for UK-EU relations should meet the following objectives:

  • maintaining workers’ existing rights and establishing a level playing field so that British workers’ rights do not fall behind those of other European workers,
  • preserving tariff-free, barrier-free, frictionless trade with the rest of Europe to protect jobs, and
  • ensuring that trade and livelihoods in Gibraltar and Ireland are protected

The statement said that the TUC was “willing to consider any proposals that would meet those tests, including negotiating a new single market relationship, or working up from a bespoke trade deal.”

And this means "we should not rule out unrestricted access to the single market through continued membership outside the EU as this meets our tests” it said.

See the full TUC General Council statement here

Follow the proceedings of the TUC Congress live here




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