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PM 'seeking EU opt-out on work law'

Published 11/07/2015

Prime Minister David Cameron will seek to restore opt-outs to the EU employment legislation which were given up by Tony Blair
Prime Minister David Cameron will seek to restore opt-outs to the EU employment legislation which were given up by Tony Blair

David Cameron will demand that the UK should be exempt from European Union employment laws as part of his plans to redefine the relationship with Brussels, according to reports.

The Prime Minister will seek to restore opt-outs to the EU legislation which were given up by Tony Blair, with specific exemptions from rules governing working time limits and giving equal rights for temporary workers.

Downing Street said the reports in the Daily Telegraph and Times were "speculation" but added that Mr Cameron had made clear that he wanted to cut back on "unnecessary EU regulation" and return power to Westminster as part of his renegotiation strategy ahead of an in/out vote on membership of the EU.

According to the reports, Mr Cameron wants to restore the opt-out to the social chapter which covers areas including equal opportunities and working conditions.

The working time directive imposes a 48-hour limit on the working week, with specified rest periods and regulations on annual leave.

Mr Blair opted into the directive , although workers can choose to work more than the 48-hour limit.

The Prime Minister is also believed to be seeking an exemption for the UK from the directive on temporary agency work, which prevents gives temporary staff similar rights to their permanent colleagues.

Giving an indication of the Prime Minister's plans, a senior Tory quoted in the Times said: "A big item is the return of the opt-out from social and employment legislation that would include the working time and temporary worker directives. For later on, we want a protocol and line in a future treaty saying employment conditions are the responsibility of member states."

Mr Cameron's demands for reform ahead of the referendum on whether to sever ties with Brussels promised by the end of 2017 include measures to restrict welfare for EU migrants, an opt-out from the goal of "ever-closer union" in Europe, greater powers for national parliaments and protections for countries - like the UK - which are not members of the single currency.

Responding to the reports on the Prime Minister's plans on EU employment legislation, a Downing Street spokesperson: " This is just more of the speculation we said there would be during the negotiation.

"The Prime Minister has set out the four priority areas for reform and made clear that cutting back on unnecessary EU regulation is part of making Europe more competitive.

"As the PM has said before - Europe if necessary, national when possible."

Shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden claimed Mr Cameron was more interested in trying to manage his party's deep divisions on Europe than in securing the best package of reforms for Britain.

He said: "There will be a lot of speculation about what the Prime Minister is trying to negotiate but as with much of the Government's European agenda this looks more like an attempt to keep different factions of the Conservative Party on board than to make a case for reform in the national interest.

"Reform of the working time directive has been under discussion in the EU for many years but tearing up rights at work is no basis for winning support to stay in a reformed EU, which is what the Prime Minister claims is his objective."

Labour leadership contender Yvette Cooper said moves to restrict workers' rights would make it harder to win support for staying in the EU.

"This is a grave error by the Prime Minister. These are hard won employment rights that protect people across Britain and should not be ripped up," she said.

"David Cameron will make it harder - not easier - to win widespread support among working people in Britain for staying in Europe if he ditches this important employment protection.

"He is pandering to Tory backbenchers who hate these rights rather than thinking about Britain's national interest and the importance of building a broad coalition in support of staying in Europe.

"Being part of Europe is extremely important for trade, jobs and growth. But so too is being part of a framework of employment protection so European countries don't undercut each other with a race to the bottom exploiting working people.

"Labour must lead the charge in opposing David Cameron's plans. We need to strengthen the rules on agency workers not weaken them as part of the European negotiations. We need to stay in Europe and reform Europe so British people get more benefits rather than losing out.

"These negotiations must not be just another opportunity for the Tories to turn the clock back on workers rights."

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