Following International Women's Day last Sunday, I was proud to vote for a report that addresses a number of key issues for women in Europe today, including reducing the gaps in pay and pensions, combating violence against women, and tackling discrimination in the workplace during and after pregnancy - in particular, supporting paid paternity leave. With recent reports suggesting that it may take a further 70 years before we close the gender pay gap, we should take this estimation as a challenge to find means of advancing it sooner. It was disappointing to see that Tory MEPs voted against this report; Labour is still leading the way by taking action to promote gender equality.
In addition to pushing for action to end gender discrimination, I and my Labour colleagues called on the Commission to rethink and strengthen its strategy for tackling Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. In a time when direct and indirect attacks on both communities are increasing in Europe, we need a fully-functioning and comprehensive means of combating them. Labour MEPs called for the EU Equality Directive to be re-examined and improved at national and EU levels to ensure a vigilant stance against discrimination and extremism.
Last week Labour MEPs voted to save UK businesses an estimated £480 million a year, and reduce the costs for consumers by voting for a law that will cap credit and debit card fees. Currently, in order to allow customers to pay by credit or debit card, businesses have to pay for it. The banks and credit card companies are competing in a race to the top, with each benefitting from charging businesses the highest rates; these charges are absorbed into the prices we pay on at the till, leaving businesses and consumers worse off. However, as of September this year, this new legislation will cap these fees at a fraction of the current cost, making life cheaper and fairer for shoppers and businesses.
During an Socialists & Democrats Group meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker, Labour MEPs called for the EU to take action to secure a fairer jobs market in the EU, with particular emphasis on precarious employment and EU support and actions to end zero hours contracts. With the General Election only weeks away, the European Parliamentary Labour Party wants to focus on the positive outlook for Britain in the EU and for continuing and visible reforms of EU policies, such as precarious employment.
As we voted for new EU rules on designs of large vehicles, Labour MEPs additionally called for these measures to be reinforced by strengthening the minimum safety standards to ensure protection for pedestrian and cyclist commuters. Whilst greener and safer buses and lorries are the right steps to take in tackling environmental concerns and encouraging technological advancement, ensuring that the those who wish to travel by foot or by bike are also safe should be equally important.