Blair faces 'ambush' to toughen up workers' rights

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair is facing an "ambush" by Britain's European partners to toughen up workers rights and prevent large-scale job losses similar to those expected at Ford's Dagenham plant today.

France is set to use its presidency of the European Union to push the UK into adopting a controversial directive requiring all firms to consult staff before cutting jobs.

The French premier, Lionel Jospin, backed by British trade unions, will put the Prime Minister under intense pressure to approve the Information and Consultation Directive.

Ford is expected to announce today that it will axe more than 1,500 car assembly jobs, although it will sweeten the announcement by promising to make the plant a global centre for engine production.

The redundancies, coming after the likely loss of 1,000 jobs at Rover, have bolstered unions claims that companies can lay off staff in the UK more easily than in other parts of Europe.

The TUC is now working with the French Socialist government to ensure that Britain adopts the EU directive, which gives unions a month's notice of any redundancies.

The proposal will form a centrepiece of Mr Jospin's plans to make workers rights an EU priority when he takes over the presidency in July. Downing Street has previously fought the move, claiming it reduces the country's competitiveness and imposes unnecessary restrictions on multinationals.

However, as the decision is subject to a qualified majority vote, the UK has no veto and the French hope to win enough support to force all countries to adopt the directive.

Michael Portillo, the shadow Chancellor, will tell a conference in Glasgow today that Britain is "taking refuge in Fortress Europe rather than looking outwards to the global economy". "Only by being a competitive Britain can we be a compassionate Britain," he will say, claiming that healthy public services depend on inward investment.