It was a very varied agenda this week, with several items on trade, women's rights, undeclared work, tax and emissions testing. The plenary also welcomed guests Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia and former MEP, and President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria to address MEPs.
The big news for the UK this week was the deal reached by David Cameron and Donald Tusk on Britain's renegotiation of its relationship with the EU. The deal means that a referendum is almost certain before the end of the summer. Labour MEPs were pleased to see that whilst UKIP and the Tories wanted workers' rights slashed, this did not happen. Rights like a minimum four weeks' paid holiday; parental leave; flexible working; equal protection for part-time workers have been secured in the deal. Our priority now is to lead a strong campaign and convince UK voters that we must stay in the EU to protect its vital contribution to our economy, rights and security.
This week Labour MEPs voted for the creation of a mechanism to tackle undeclared work. National authorities will take the lead in enhancing cross-border cooperation on this exploitation through the development of common measurement tools, a permanent training capacity and a peer review system and strategies and campaigns to raise awareness. In the UK there are an estimated 600,000 undeclared workers (which accounts for 2% of the workforce); this shadow economy makes up 10% of UK GDP. Clearly this is a system which creates poor working conditions for workers and creates unfair competition between colleagues. People are forced to sign contracts which class them as self-employed when in practices the only work for a company. They can be fired without warning, have no access to sick or holiday pay and have reduced benefit entitlements and access to employment tribunals. The European Union has always led the fight for better working conditions and workers' rights and it now needs to act for vulnerable undeclared workers.
The VW emissions scandal has affected many of our constituents, and Labour MEPs have voted for an objection which calls for the European Commission to come back with better, stronger proposals to swiftly introduce Real Driving Emissions (RDE) testing. The objection called for more stringent emissions tests for vehicles, reflecting pollution emitted in the road and not just in cars; it was voted down 323-312, with Tory MEPs voting against. For years, Labour MEPs have been calling for a new RDE test to be devised so new vehicles would be in line with emissions standards that were introduced 10 years ago. We must now ensure that there are no more delays in introducing RDE tests and that in future, any attempts to revise the requirements are done so in transparent and democratic negotiations.
Members of the European Parliament were asked to vote on a report by the International Trade Committee which sets out MEPs' demands to the European Commission for the ongoing Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) negotiations. Your Labour MEPs secured the inclusion of text calling for the full exemption of public services, the protection of workers' rights, a new binding clause to guarantee data privacy and greater transparency. It is an agreement currently being negotiated by 23 parties to the World Trade Organisation, including the EU. In no EU country are jobs so linked to the services sector as in the UK - more than half the UK workforce is employed in this field. The Trade in Services Agreement is an opportunity not only to boost our economy but to update trade rules for the benefit of all.
With David Cameron showing no signs of acting to protect the UK steel industry, Labour MEPs are more determined than ever to press the EU Commission and UK Government to use China's possible rise to market economy status (MES) as an opportunity to demand Beijing plays fair and stops uncompetitive practices like steel dumping. Europe can't be a soft touch for unfairly subsidised imports from China. It's not protectionist to want adequate protection from unfair competition - we urgently need updated trade defence instruments to ensure this.
Labour MEPs voted for a resolution calling on the European Commission to urgently present a new EU strategy for gender equality. Gender equality has stalled in recent years and the EU, as a long standing advocate and promoter of equality, must move for a clear and comprehensive strategy for 2016 onwards. We need concrete action to cover a wide-range of issues such as the gender pay gap, equality in economic and political decision-making and legislation to combat violence against women. UKIP MEPs voted against the resolution.
I also took to the floor during plenary to push Commissioner Andriukaitis on the need to harmonise pet identification and registration systems and requirements across the European Union. Constituents from every member state have made it clear that they want action to stop the illegal trade in thousands of pets which takes place every year. Animals that are bred in huge numbers and in cramped, inhumane conditions and exposed to disease are sold onto new owners who have no idea of the level of care they need, how old they are or where they've come from. These details are crucial for ensuring that pets are up-to-date with their injections, which is an important step in helping us prevent the spread of diseases between animals and humans.