I hate to admit it, but more and more frequently I’m finding myself supporting the European Commission. This is generally because the parliament, driven by a toxic mix of left-wing ideology and obsessive euro-integrationism, tries to take Commission proposals and make them worse.
The latest example is the egregious proposal for “The Organisation of the Working Time of Persons Performing Mobile Road Transport Activities”, (or as you or I might say, drivers). This is all part of the parliament’s long-term ambition to ensure that the hated Working Time Directive applies to everyone, everywhere, without exception.
The item in question this time round is whether or not to include self-employed drivers in the rules that govern how many hours a week a driver can work. The Commission is happy (as I am) to leave them well alone, whilst many in the Parliament would rather see them included under the legislation. As a result, the Unemployment Committee has proposed a compromise: how about letting Member States choose whether or not they want to include self-employed drivers? All very neat in theory, but trade does not stop at national borders (that was meant to be the whole point of the EU), and having different rules in different countries when crossing between them is costly and confusing. I yield to no one in my commitment to national sovereignty, but even I am prepared to concede that international hauliers will find it difficult to cope with rules that change at every frontier across the EU.
In fact, the entire directive could quite happily be scrapped. We already have perfectly decent rules on drivers’ health and safety, with which the industry is familiar, and on the whole conforms to. This proposed directive adds nothing to the welfare or safety of drivers, but merely seeks to burden them with the fallout of socialist ideology, insisting that drivers must be restricted in the number of hours they work, regardless of their feelings on the matter, or the effect on their personal finances. Along with the Directive come calls for enforcement, new agencies, more officials, extensive training of officials, all the expensive, time-consuming and bureaucratic paraphernalia of state control.
Many self-employed drivers are attracted to the job precisely because of the relative of autonomy they have over their working lives. Taking away their right to decide when and how they work entirely defeats the point of being self-employed – which of course is what the parliament wants. Everyone should work for somebody else. Everyone should join a trade union. Everyone should be represented by the “Social Partners”. Next thing we’ll have a Directive mandating beer and sandwiches at Number Ten, Harold-Wilson-style. For drivers out there who are happy to conform to the new constraints laid down, and to be brought under regulation, the answer is simple: become an employed driver, with clocked hours. As I understand it, the industry is crying out for people to fill just such vacant positions.
Britain has a history of keeping out of EU employment law if it can help it, and the Conservative Party has a commitment to withdraw Britain wholesale from the dead hand of EU employment law. What’s right for the Greek or Swedish or Latvian market isn’t necessarily right for the UK market, and we are fighting hard to keep our options open wherever we can. But in this case, the compromise position, in which Britain chooses not to regulate for self-employed drivers, but lets the French and Dutch do so if they wish, simply won’t work in the context of the Single Market. And so I find myself in the slightly uncomfortable position of siding with the Commission once again. I only hope that my socialist colleagues in the Parliament will see sense on this one too.