The European Social Charter turns 50 today, but Britain doesn't belong at the party

Today is the 50th anniversary of the European Social Charter on workers' rights. The UK government is not celebrating, as it seeks to squeeze employment rights still further to satisfy corporate interests.
Keith Ewing Stuart Weir
18 October 2011

Today is the 50th anniversary of the European Social Charter, which parallels the European Convention on Human Rights but deals with workers’ rights. This is probably news to you, as the UK government is not celebrating. This is a government that is hostile to workers’ rights and wants to diminish them still further in the interests of corporate business. There are few lobbyists for improving the current poor position.  Rather the reverse: the neo-con network has other fish to fry; and it is said that advisers in Downing Street are contemplating resiling from shared maternity/paternity rights.

One measure of the government’s commitment to the welfare of workers and their trade unions is to be found in the latest finding in December 2010 of the expert body set up under the Council of Europe on the UK’s compliance with the terms of the Social Charter. This body found that the UK was in breach of 10 of the 13 provisions of the Charter. We have one of the worst records of compliance in Europe.   

The government’s disdain for the Social Charter needs to be tied in with the deliberations of the current Commission on a Bill of Rights.  If there is to be a British Bill of Rights, then the Commission should recommend that worker and trade union rights should have a prominent place in the Bill, as in the constitutional practice of many Council of Europe countries.  These rights ought at last to include the right to strike. Fat chance, yes.  But if the Occupy movement is going to bring about genuine change, then economic and social rights should be on its agenda.

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