Brexit: sorry unions fear flexibility

The left and the unions are concerned. Brexit will force a reconsideration of the EU rules and regulations that are not written into UK law, as they would cease to be enforced when Britain leaves the EU. The myriad of labour market regulations is of specific concern. A big task is awaiting. According to the general secretary of the TUC, the cumulative volume of labour market regulations is so vast that the 2 years of Brexit negotiations is not long enough to consider it all. Still, apparently it is all indispensable.

The apparent upside to workers from regulation is clear. It doesn’t create, but it guarantees a lot of benefits: vacation, paid maternity leave, breaks, protection from the sack and much more. When hearing that regulation doesn’t create these benefits, the left will look bewildered. Surely the state has invented and implemented these rights. But really, the lunch break was invented before the welfare state. All of these rights could be incorporated in a voluntary employment contract, and many would be. But putting it into law certainly guarantees them for all workers.

The question is: is a contract negotiation between two voluntary parties best left to themselves, or should a 3rd party intervene and stipulate certain conditions? Much of the content of any modern day employment contract is not open to negotiation. A worker cannot trade vacation for higher pay. Or shorter lunch breaks for more vacation. Or right to maternity leave for a shorter work day. Or less protection from redundancy for higher pay. Or lower pay for the opportunity to work at all (because of minimum wage legislation). According to conventional wisdom, that is a good thing. Workers are assumed to be weak and open to exploitation. But that’s where the unions come in.  In a free market, workers would have every right to organize and negotiate working conditions as a group, offsetting any perceived disadvantage in negotiating position. Strength in numbers.  Unions are supposed to negotiate for their members, but labour market regulation leaves them less room for manoeuvre. They should have a vested interest in less regulation, to facilitate more flexibility in contacts, to suit individual work places and conditions.

The fact that the unions are advocating labour market regulation is an admission of their own incompetence. Strong, effective unions would negotiate good contracts on behalf of their members without the protection and limitation provided by legislation. Workers would be better off with less regulation and stronger representatives. Brexit could be the catalyst. The more likely outcome, however, is the status quo.

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