Leaving the EU: State Aid, Public Ownership and Workers’ Rights — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:19 pm on 11th December 2018.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 3:19 pm, 11th December 2018

As someone representing the constituency with the second highest individual number of yes voters in the 2014 referendum, I think my hon. Friend is right. The reason why the issue is important is that European Governments supported their steel industries against cheap imports. They supported their industrial base at a time when the UK did not. There are fears at the moment, with the current Government refusing to match Scottish Government funding for the Tayside deal to support Michelin workers who face job losses. It just goes to show that the “nasty party” tag is still alive and well.

The Scottish Government have had to intervene to help commercial shipbuilding on the Clyde, finding a new buyer for the Ferguson shipyard, and they have also intervened in relation to securing a new owner for the steelworks. For the first time, following a campaign and the amendment of the law, the Scottish Government have secured the power to allow a public-sector bid for a rail franchise in Scotland. It was Westminster that sold off public services, not the European Union, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East described very well. It is the Scottish Government who are pressing ahead with plans for a national investment bank and public energy company.

Workers’ rights are a passion of mine. I was a trade union activist before I arrived in this place. It was the European Union that forced successive Westminster Governments to improve workers’ rights. The pregnant workers directive of 1992 guaranteed women a minimum of 14 weeks’ maternity leave, and that forced the then Labour Government to go further.

The European Court of Justice made it clear that any discrimination against a woman because of pregnancy or maternity leave is sexism and should be treated as such. It was EU law that provided that parents must be allowed 18 weeks’ unpaid leave from work to look after a child. The equal treatment directive led to UK law banning discrimination on the grounds of age, religion or sexual orientation. Indeed, that directive is helping many women, particularly in the public services, to make equal pay claims. I am grateful for that, and should declare that I am currently an equal pay claimant against my former employer—but I shall move swiftly on.

EU rules adopted in 2008 provide that temporary workers must be treated equally with directly employed staff, which includes the giving of access to the same amenities and collective services. We know from research that 41 of the 65 new health and safety regulations introduced in the UK since 1997 have come from the European Union. The Scottish National party takes the issue of tackling exploitative working practices extremely seriously, and we oppose the “anti-trade union” Act 2016.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East is campaigning for the UK Government to stop discriminating against young people and ensure they get a real living wage. My hon. Friend Stewart Malcolm McDonald is promoting the Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill, and I recommend the well-crafted and beautifully written Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill that seeks to simplify the status of workers in law and eliminate zero-hours contracts. I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate. SNP Members oppose neo-liberalism. We do not see Brexit as a way to enhance neo-liberalism, and if turns out to be it will be a disaster for this country—it will be a disaster for the United Kingdom.