Letter: Britain's history of resistance to a European social charter for its workers

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The Independent Online
Sir: Is it too much to ask that Thursday's Commons debate on the Social Chapter will enlighten the public of the real issues raised by Britain's opt-out? They are not new.

Britain signed a social charter in October 1961, the Social Charter of the Council of Europe, a much larger grouping than the EC, including such countries as Sweden and Cyprus. One difference in this charter is that nations do not have to accept all its provisions. It is, therefore, very revealing to see which provisions the UK has not accepted:

Article 2 seeks a reduction in the working week as productivity permits. But no figures are imposed.

Article 7, on the right of children and young persons to protection, includes a normal minimum age of 15 for admission to employment. It provides for limited working hours for those under 16 to allow for vocational training, and prohibits night work for those under 18.

Article 8 protects women against dismissal during maternity leave. It prohibits the employment of women workers in underground mining, and, as appropriate, on all other work that is unsuitable for them by reason of its dangerous, unhealthy or arduous nature.

All these clauses are unacceptable to the UK Government.

After that it is no surprise that the UK cannot back the wording of Article 12.3: to endeavour to raise progressively the system of social security to a higher level. The clause does not say we must, but that we should at least try.

The Social Chapter of the Maastricht treaty draws inspiration from this European social charter, and is unacceptable to the UK because it does not allow opting out from such significant clauses.

Yours faithfully,

DAVID PEARSON

Wembley, Middlesex

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