UNISON is to campaign for the UK to stay part of the European Union, and will be encouraging its 1.3 million members to vote remain on 23 June.
The decision was taken today (Wednesday) at a meeting of the union’s governing NEC, and follows an extensive UK-wide consultation and survey across UNISON’s branches.
The fear that Brexit would mean the loss of the many workplace rights – parental leave, paid holiday, protection for part-timers and limits on excessive hours – that UK employees have come to take for granted is the most important issue in the coming referendum, according to UNISON’s overwhelmingly female membership.
Concern over what might happen to those employment rights should the UK vote to leave the EU was closely followed by worries about the plight of the country’s public services if Britain opted to go it alone.
In the consultative survey, almost four in five (78%) of UNISON’s health, local government, education, energy and police branches wanted the union to take a stance in the EU referendum. Of these, the overwhelming majority (95%) wanted UNISON to campaign for the UK to stay in Europe.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Europe isn’t perfect, but on balance staying in the EU has so much more to offer nurses, teaching assistants, town hall staff and other public servants than an uncertain future where the UK goes it alone.
“Brexit fears have just seen the UK’s growth forecast downgraded. NHS, local government, school and police employees bore the brunt of the last economic downturn, and are still paying the price. The last thing anyone wants is another recession where jobs, living standards and public services are back on the line.
“Without the laws that began life in Europe, most people at work in the UK would be getting a very rough deal. If the June vote is to leave the EU, it would then be up to the government which laws stayed and which laws went. Unscrupulous employers would have a field day.
“UNISON may have had its doubts about Europe in the past, but now the chips are down and exit is a real possibility, public sector workers know that the services they deliver, and the public that relies on them, will be much better off in than out.”
NHS housekeeper Mary Locke said: “Every since David Cameron came back from Brussels and began the referendum campaign, there’s been nothing but confusing claim and counterclaim from both camps.
“In contrast, UNISON’s information was clear and gave all the arguments, without taking sides. All politicians – whether they are remain or leave – could do well to learn from the union’s approach and use the next ten weeks wisely to inform voters, not bewilder and overwhelm them.”
UNISON member James Anthony, who is a nurse specialist, said: “Without the migrant health workers who’ve come to work in the UK from across Europe, the NHS would have gone under years ago.
“The health service is under pressure like never before, but its plight would be considerably worse if it were to suffer all the economic and political turmoil that Brexit would bring.”