People over profit: why EU consumer and worker protections shouldn’t be scrapped

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Haven’t we heard all this before? The country goes into recession and radical steps are taken to try and increase economic growth. The pie then gets bigger, we all get richer, well done government.

Still, in the wake of the 2010s austerity programme—where the number of children receiving food from the Trussell Trust food banks tripled in just seven years, and an extra 120,000 deaths were attributed to the programme by BMJ Open—it is hard to believe that government measures aiming to rapidly increase economic growth will not involve some corner-cutting.

This time such corner-cutting has come in the form of once Tory MEP and newly made Conservative Lord, Daniel Hannan. In an article for the conservativehome website, Hannan proposes stripping many consumer and worker protections enforced by our former EU membership.

Hannan’s proposal shows a repeated prioritisation of profit over people

Firstly, Hannan has suggested the scrapping of the General Data Protection Regulation which gives individuals control over their personal data and limits its transfer to other countries. Presumably, this is to allow businesses and organisations to save time and money on complex data protection measures, but as the current regulations protect those with little knowledge of how to ensure their data is safe themselves, it seems a disturbing and unnecessary step away from safety.

The DPRA requires data controllers clearly to disclose any data collection, declare the lawful basis and purpose for data processing, and state how long data is being retained and if it is being shared with any third parties or outside of the EEA. The Regulation robustly protects the data of both consumers and workers and Hannan’s desire to see it removed or altered in order to ‘boost the economy’ begs the question: what would be sacrificed to enable economic growth? 

Hannan has also gone after the Temporary Workers’ Directive, which guarantees agency staff receive equal pay and conditions as employees in the same business. The directive aims to increase confidence in the temporary work sector by improving protection for workers concerned while giving greater flexibility to companies. Protection for temporary workers is essential for many occupations but also for permanently employed pregnant workers and employed mothers who are breast-feeding.

The rights secured by this directive ensure non-discrimination regarding the basic conditions of work and employment between temporary and permanent staff, essentially protecting against abuse and exploitation of vulnerable people in the temporary work sphere. The removal of these regulations would be a significant challenge to workers’ and Hannan’s rights and his prioritisation of economic growth over such crucial protections suggests a naïve approach to economic policy which neglects to wonder why such a law would have been proposed by the EU. As a capitalist institution the EU aims to balance worker and consumer protection with economic prosperity, and so its directives are not often intended as an obstacle to rapid and yet humane economic recovery and growth.

Not to be neglected in the Tory peer’s dismantling were several environmental protections. He wishes, for instance, for the UK now to ignore the REACH directive outlawing chemicals linked to health problems including cancer, thyroid disease, hormone disruption and slow development, alongside a ban on products made from genetically modified crops, potentially allowing US food derived in that manner into the UK as part of a future trade deal.

None of the policies in question present an obvious barrier to economic growth

I think it is first worth noting that for someone in Hannan’s position, neither of these policies are likely to have a great effect on the budget of him or his family, as he boasted once on Sunday Politics of “a very well-remunerated job with huge tax-free salaries”.

For Hannan, this change will perhaps incur a switch to more expensive chemical-free alternatives, but for those who continually shop on a tightly stretched budget, such directives ensured some protection against the potentially harmful chemicals which go into making cheap food products. Both these policies were in place for the safety of British consumers and Hannan’s proposal to scrap them shows a repeated prioritisation of profit over people.

The demolition of EU policies put in place to protect workers and consumers will surely do more harm than good, and as none of these policies present an obvious barrier to economic growth, it is worth questioning the motives behind suggestions to risk such protections for profit.   

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

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