TTIP must comply with European values and standards or it will fail
This month saw the leaking of confidential documents on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations. The leak - mostly composed of so-called "consolidated documents" which include US positions - shows further progress on transparency is now entirely dependent on the US accepting EU transparency standards. Secrecy and the perception of secrecy is undermining trade policy and public trust. We need the US to rise up to the standards set by the EU.
Citizens, trade unions and NGOs have helped us secure greater transparency on the TTIP negotiations to the extent that contrary to popular perception, TTIP is now the most transparent trade negotiation in the history of the EU with all EU proposals publicly available. The leak confirms what we have known for a long time: that the US will strongly champion their interests in the negotiations. We are demanding that the EU be equally tough in upholding our values. We will not accept a TTIP that includes any lowering of standards.
Nothing in the leak indicated that the EU had complied with any of the US demands. The S&D's requirements for a progressive TTIP have been clearly spelled out on numerous occasions. We call for a deal that can contribute to creating jobs and growth in Europe whilst protecting our values and public services as well as setting high standards for workers' rights and environmental protection. TTIP must comply with European values or it will fail. Only an agreement that respects the demands of the elected representatives of the European people will have a chance of being be approved by the European Parliament.
Parental Leave Directive seeks more family friendly policies
This month Labour MEPs voted for a report calling for national governments to adopt more family friendly policies and to fully implement the parental leave directive. The report - which Conservative MEPs voted against – was seeking to modernise parental leave provisions throughout the EU and called on EU countries to introduce high-quality, accessible childcare facilities. The measures are designed to introduce a better sharing of family tasks to facilitate women participating in the job market on equal terms. The old rules were taking women out of the labour market and not letting men have the chance to be fathers. The full implementation of the parental leave directive will give millions of fathers across Europe the ability to spend quality time with their new children after birth.
Tax avoidance: Tories say one thing in public but vote the other way
Surely after the revelations of the Panama Papers we should listen to public opinion and strengthen measures to fight tax avoidance and evasion. Instead Tory MEPs are voting against these proposals and setting back efforts to bring money back to the UK Treasury.
In May Labour MEPs voted in favour of greater corporate transparency and tougher action on tax dodging. The vote came as David Cameron was hosting an anti-corruption summit in London, with the government claiming to have "led the way on tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance".
However, five times in the past 13 months, Conservative MEPs have said one thing and voted in completely the opposite way - against measures to tackle tax dodging, public country-by-country reporting of tax affairs, a common list of tax havens, a shareholders rights directive and a clampdown on tax fraud, including aggressive tax planning.
Public country-by-country reporting is where companies report exactly where they make their money and where they pay their taxes so tax authorities and taxpayers can see if they are paying their fair share. It is vital in the fight against tax avoidance and tax evasion, even more so in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal.
China: Market Economy Status and the dumping of steel
During the May Strasbourg Plenary the European Parliament voted for a Resolution opposing any unilateral granting of market economy status (MES) to China. 15 years ago, when China joined the World Trade Organisation there was an expectation that China would have become a market economy by December 2016, and thereby be granted MES.
China should not to be granted this status until their economy is one where supply, demand and prices of goods and services are determined by the market. China is not a market economy and should not be recognised as one. Granting them Market Economy Status in the current circumstances would tighten the noose around the UK steel industry's neck.
Later that week trade ministers met in Brussels to discuss a long-delayed reform of EU trade defence instruments - reforms that have been blocked for two years by a number of national governments led by the UK. The need to reform trade defence instruments, reform of the EU emissions trading scheme and the high energy costs faced by energy-intensive industries were all on the agenda. Labour MEPs believe that the EU needs to modernise trade defence measures to protect European industries, but the UK government is currently blocking vital reforms and has repeatedly refused to change its position.
Meanwhile in the USA, less than a week after it decided to impose duties of more than 500 percent on Chinese cold-rolled flat steel, the U.S. Department of Commerce has announced it will levy anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties of up to 451 percent on Chinese corrosion-resistant steel.
The more China dumps cheap steel onto the European market, the more our jobs and industry will be under threat. We cannot accept the granting of Market Economy Status to China and must insist on improving our trade defence instruments.
S&D MEPs welcome plan to modernise EU railways but call for stronger protection of workers’ rights
After years of negotiations, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU have finally agreed on reforms to Europe's railway network to allow travel between different European cities with a single ticket. The European railway system is still fragmented and it is difficult for passengers and freight services to plan and budget for journeys. This problem is to be addressed as well as improved safety standards to allow drivers and crews who perform safety-related tasks to be able to report any potential risks confidentially.
There are however still concerns about the social rights of workers in the railway sector. S&D MEPs will be looking into the political pillar of the fourth Railway Package that is due to be voted on later this year. We want to see if workers' rights have been maintained and will be looking to assess whether the social dimension has been taken on board sufficiently.
Job creation potential of tourism recognised
Tourism is a crucial engine for economic growth and job creation in many European countries, particularly during the summer. The Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament believe this sector needs investment and modernising, as well as a particular attention on seasonal workers.
In Europe, the US, and in Asia the tourism industry is seeing the biggest and fastest growth in the global economy. In Europe, tourism produces almost 10% of EU GDP and has created 25 million jobs. Socialist MEPs want those jobs to be quality jobs.
The S&D’s ‘The Tourism Manifesto for Growth and Jobs’ is a tool to maintain a structural dialogue among the institutions and industry to speak with a common voice on tourism. In order to unleash the full potential of tourism in Europe we need to lay the foundations for the sector: investing and improving transport infrastructure, developing our rich and diverse cultural networks and heritage sites, as well as protecting rural areas and nature reserves. Furthermore, we need to invest in our workers by providing excellent training opportunities.
The troubling news from Port Talbot and other key steelmaking communities across Britain can hardly be described as a wake-up call. British production of steel has been steadily declining over the last decades and in 2015 over 5,000 jobs were lost in this sector, including 250 in Motherwell and Cambuslang. However, Tata Steel's decision to sell off its British operations could well be the final nail in the coffin for this once proud industry.
Rise in zero-hours contracts highlights need for urgent action
Labour MEPs in Strasbourg this week (7-10 March) again called for urgent action to tackle zero-hours contracts, following the latest figures showing a rise in their usage in the UK. 801,000 people in the UK were employed on a zero-hours contract between October-December 2015, up from 697,000 for the same period in 2014 - a 15 per cent rise.
I and my fellow Labour MEPs have long been calling for action on zero-hours contracts, and leading the European Parliament's calls for action. The European Commission needs to act now to tackle the problems of insecure employment, youth unemployment and poor wages, and urgently come up with policies. This is what the EU should be doing, working with national governments to strengthen workers' rights and clamp down on these unfair practices.
Far too many employers are using exploitative zero-hour contracts without a thought of the negative consequences they have on people's lives. If you work regular hours, you should have a regular contract - everyone deserves to be in quality employment and employers have a responsibility to ensure their employees are protected in the workplace.
All workers deserve adequate wages, social security protection and decent workplace conditions. Labour MEPs will continue to fight for quality jobs with job security in the UK and across the EU.
Standing up to China for a fair playing field for our industries
In February I called on the European Commission and the UK government to use China's rise to market economy status (MES) by the end of 2016 as an opportunity to pressure the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to demand Beijing plays fair and stops uncompetitive practices like the dumping of steel, which is crushing Britain's steel industry. The Commission has had 15 years to address this problem. We are running out of time and we must see real engagement from the Commission to reassure European industry and workers that the EU will be properly equipped to deal with global overcapacity and dumping on our market after the end of this year.
We cannot allow China to solve its overcapacity by dumping on the European market causing devastating effects on industrial communities across Britain. The EU has the ability to protect our economy against this unfair trade. It's not protectionist to want adequate protection from unfair competition - we urgently need updated trade defence instruments to ensure this. It is outrageous that the UK government is blocking any strengthening of current EU trade defence instruments, and is even contemplating giving China a permanent permit to dump.
Commission presents new proposal on posted workers
During this week’s Strasbourg Plenary (7-10 March) the European Parliament debated new proposed and revised rules for posted workers – workers who are employed in one Member State and temporarily sent to work in another.
The Commission’s proposed revision was for posted workers to be legally entitled to the same pay as local host country workers, rather than only to the host country's minimum wage. There is concern that this can create wage differences between posted and local workers and potentially lead to unfair competition between companies. The Commission also proposed that workers posted for longer than two years should be deemed to have been integrated into the host labour market, so as to prevent abuses such as employing them under less favourable social conditions.
Labour MEPs broadly welcomed the Commission's proposals for pay equality but called for more to be done to close loopholes and create a truly fair system. While the proposals are welcome they don't go far enough, and work will be needed to strengthen them when the plans come before MEPs. Labour MEPs believe posted workers should benefit from the protection of the collective agreements that are actually applied in the host country. The Commission failed to ensure posted workers would benefit from collective bargaining.
Present legislation dates from 1996 and since then the EU labour market has changed with the ratio of the lowest to highest national minimum wages in member states increasing from 1:3 in 1996 to 1:10 today. If equal pay for equal work is to mean anything, it means people receiving the same rates of pay regardless of where they're from, and irrespective of whether they're temporary or not - we cannot allow companies to get away with exploiting workers and undercutting wages.
Trade in Services agreement must protect public services and protect workers’ rights
I and my fellow Labour MEPs voted in February for the exemption of public services, protection of workers' rights and greater transparency and data protection in the EU Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).
The European Parliament was voting on a resolution setting out a series of demands from MEPs to the European Commission, which is negotiating TiSA on behalf of EU national governments. These include the full exclusion of all public services; strong safeguards for workers; a new binding clause to guarantee data privacy; and greater transparency.
TiSA is currently being negotiated between 23 World Trade Organisation (WTO) parties, including the EU. It is intended as a tool to reform the rules surrounding global trade in services, which have been in force since 1995 through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
The trade in services is a significant and growing part of the EU economy and the current rules are grossly outdated. Creating a level playing field and opening global markets to European service providers is long overdue and crucial to the protection and promotion of jobs in the European Union.
In no EU country are jobs so linked to the services sector as in the UK - more than half the UK workforce are employed in this field. The Trade in Services Agreement is an opportunity to boost our economy and to update trade rules for the benefit of all. Positive reform must ensure the protection of public services, workers’ rights and the ability of governments’ right to regulate.
Unemployment to remain virtually static
The European Commission, in its winter 2016 economic forecast, has predicted that the moderate growth and unemployment rate we have been experiencing will improve only “at a snail’s pace”. The Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, Pierre Moscovici acknowledged that more work is needed to increase investment and called for richer member states to increase public investment.
On that point, Veronica Nilsson, Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), agreed: “Richer countries must invest more to drive growth and create jobs - we are with Commissioner Moscovici on that one.
“We do however have further concerns” added Ms Nilsson, “the Commissioner has said nothing about much needed wage increases, or the rise in low paid insecure work, despite his expectation that private consumption would be the main driver of growth next year.
“Moderate growth is obviously better than no growth, but it is deeply disappointing and worrying that unemployment is expected to fall at only such a slow pace.”
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.
Scottish MEP David Martin has called on the European Commission and the UK government to use China's rise to market economy status (MES) by the end of 2016 as an opportunity to pressure the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to demand Beijing plays fair and stops uncompetitive practices like the dumping of steel, which is devastating Britain's steel industry.