Public services and EU exit

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2019 National Delegate Conference
15 February 2019

Conference, on behalf of public service workers in the East Midlands and the rest of the UK, is horrified at how the UK Government has conducted EU exit negotiations so far. The turmoil in the Westminster Parliament does not give workers any confidence that their best interests are being served whatever deals or legislation finally emerges in the coming months or years ahead.

Conference recognises that UNISON’s EU exit campaign, since the 2016 Referendum, has consistently prioritised the protection of public services and workers rights regardless of the political upheaval.

Conference believes the current EU exit agenda of the Conservative Party does not guarantee the protection of public services and UNISON members’ rights. Their free trade plans will not secure an economic deal that will deliver quality public services, free from harmful global liberalisation policies in the future.

The government’s EU exit agenda threatens our workers rights and must be stopped. A Tory Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU, and also other countries subsequently, would promote a new global race to the bottom in workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental regulation and open up UK public services to the lowest bidder.

Conference further notes that UNISON has created its own six tests based on our annual Conference decisions to evaluate what we would like to see included in any future EU-UK deal to protect our members’ rights and public services:

1)Protect existing health and safety and workers rights through a level playing field of regulations, with a non regression clause, an enforcement mechanism and accessible dispute mechanism that enforces the adherence and future upgrade on these rights;

2)Protect public services from a bad economic deal that will prevent growth of the UK economy, continue public service austerity instead of increased funding, lower living standards and offer less training and skills opportunities for workers;

3)Keep UK public services out of global trade deals, maintain only the existing beneficial social provisions in public procurement regulations, expand the right to public ownership and the positive use of State Aid;

4)Safeguard rights, standards and regulations (e.g. employment, health and safety, consumer and environment) and any new EU measures in the future so that they cannot be weakened in the UK through any future trade deals with non-EU countries like the USA;

5)Maintain existing equality and human rights, EU citizen rights, EU freedom of movement;

6)Prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, uphold the Good Friday Agreement and respect the devolution legislation of the Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Public services, the voluntary and community sector and the UK nations and regions will particularly lose out financially when we exit. There will be no so called ‘deal dividend’ as promised by the UK chancellor in the 2018 autumn budget if the economy collapses.

The government’s own evaluation report published at the end of 2018 demonstrated that any type of Brexit deal will make us poorer. Their impact assessments predict that Britain’s economic growth will be lower over the next 15 years (growth will be reduced by 8% with a No-deal, 5% with a FTA and 2% with an EEA option). Most economic analysis shows that the knock to public finances will dwarf many times over any cut in our EU membership fee.

Conference further notes that the UKs £8 billion a year net contribution to the EU will not go to zero post Brexit because all parties have stated they will pay to stay in certain crime-fighting, science and student exchange programmes among other things. There have been no official announcements on what this will cost but it will certainly be in the billions – and so the saving on EU membership fee is likely to be pretty small.

Furthermore conference believes it is paramount that the UK amount from the European Structural and Investment Funds must be matched in its replacement with the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF), in order to support the UK economic goal of regional economic equality. Conference notes that the Local Government Association (LGA) has estimated the EU funding gap will be £8.4 billion after 2020.

Conference agrees that any Brexit deal must not leave workers worse off, living standards must not fall. The government must end austerity and provide a Brexit deal that can properly fund the NHS, social care, local government, transport, police, education and housing and investing in our communities. Public services and its workers must not pay the price for a bad deal or no – deal.

Conference also notes that Brexit will not only put financial funding for public services at risk but also with the ending of EU freedom of movement and the introduction of Settled Status for EU migrants it risks staff shortages in key public services like health and social care.

EU joiners in the UK have fallen by 17.6% and the number of EU leavers has risen by 15.3% in the 12 months since the EU referendum resulting in a net outflow of EU national from NHS employment.

The social care sector currently cannot survive without workers from EU countries working in its teams. Between 2011 and 2016, the number of EU nationals employed in social care grew by 68%, or 30,600 people.

A report by the Cavendish Coalition, which UNISON is a member of, found that the NHS could be short of 51,000 nurses, enough to staff 45 hospitals, by the end of the Brexit transition period. And in social care the sector is under considerable strain with a vacancy rate of 12.3% and will have to navigate a Brexit transition period in which a critical portion of its EU workforce considers it’s future if the government does not manage EU migration to make EU citizens feel welcome.

If we do not solve this social care crisis the knock-on effects to the NHS will be enormous. People who are best cared for in their homes or in the community will instead be forced to visit already over-crowded hospitals, putting yet more strain on the system.

Conference notes that UNISON has grave concerns about the Migration Advisory Committees’ (MAC) recommendations to the government to include a £30,000 a year minimum threshold in its post Brexit migration plans. This will limit the crucial source of valued social care colleagues. The care sector relies on lower paid colleagues who would be effectively cut off by a salary threshold of £30,000.

It would be irresponsible for the government to bring the shutters down overnight, especially to those in important lower-wage roles such as care workers, or to others performing vital services to the public but who are earning less than £30,000 a year, such as nurses.

Conference notes UNISONs work with the 3 million and Cavendish Coalition to ensure the process for registering for Settled Status is as easy and smooth as possible. The campaign by UNISON regions and branches to get public sector employers to pay for their settled status fee has gone from strength to strength. It reinforces the message that EU workers, alongside non – EU workers, play a valuable contribution in the delivery of our public services.

Conference calls on all parts of UNISON to remain vigilant in protecting on our rights and public services through the coming months, whatever emerges from Parliament.

Conference further calls on the National Executive Council to continue to:

a)Campaign for an EU exit deal that puts the protection and future growth of UK public services, equality and employment rights at its core;

b)Call for a general election to break the parliamentary deadlock;

c)Work with Labour Link and the Labour Party, parliamentary allies, TUC and EPSU and our key civil society alliances including the3million, Cavendish Coalition and the Brexit Civil Society Alliance (BCSA) to promote UNISONs six tests in any future final deal;

d)Campaign for a cast-iron guarantee from the UK government that its settled status programme for EU nationals will be honoured in the event of a no-deal Brexit to prevent a damaging staff shortage in health and social care services;

e)Campaign for the government’s future UK’s Industrial Strategy to address the EU funding deficit in a post Brexit local landscape and provide for public funded infrastructure initiatives for regional economic growth as well as funds for social cohesion and skills development in the local workforce.