There was much more to former welfare slasher Iain Duncan Smith’s 10-minute meltdown on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, but let’s concentrate on the subject of the Mirror‘s headline: ‘flexible’ workers’ rights.
So let us be clear: When Iain Duncan Smith says workers’ rights should be “flexible”, he means employers and businesspeople should have the ability to restrict or eliminate those rights.
He does not mean workers should be able to expand their rights.
That’s why he said: “The Working Time Directive of itself gave little or no flexibility to business and to employers at the time [it was introduced].”
That’s why he said: “UK law would protect what we think is best for the workforce” [bolding mine].
He also rattled off some silliness about making sure the competition workers faced for their jobs was fair, without ever pausing to consider that removing protections for equal pay, paid annual leave and maternity pay would automatically make those jobs unfair.
It’s enough to make us think Iain Duncan Smith is no longer in his right mind.
But don’t be confused; he is.
Considering the weight of evidence against him over the deaths of benefit claimants, it seems possible he is simply trying to build a defence of mental ill-health in advance of any criminal court action (from, say, Scotland).
Cute – in the North American, rather than the European, meaning of the word.
Andrew Neil asked IDS to pledge to fight to protect the Working Time Directive, protections for equal pay, paid annual leave and maternity pay if we leave.
He doesn’t sound all that sure about it, saying : “All of these were accepted by my existing government, the Conservative government, and I believe strongly that there need to be protections for workers. All of these things in a democracy are debatable and debated.”
Pressed on whether he would protect them, he said: “As they stand right now, yes.”
But Mr Neil skewered him, noting that he opposed the EU social chapter in 1992, voted against the Working Time Directive in 1996 and the minimum wage and 1997.
After a couple of minutes of waffling about migration, he admitted: “The Working Time Directive of itself gave little or no flexibility to business and to employers at the time. It’s been in place and we have had to work with it. But the reality here is … that you protect the workforce, but you make sure that the competition that they face in terms of their jobs is actually fair competition and not unfair competition.
Asked again, if the Working Time Directive was safe, he sounded a lot more shaky than in his initial answer: “UK law would protect what we think is best for the workforce, and that’s exactly right. You’re a democratic government. The democratic government will decide what it thinks is right. That is possible for Labour or Conservatives to argue and debate.
“I believe that it’s right to have it, but the question is how flexible you are over the way it’s operated.”
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