european unionOne side says certain regulations hinder economic growth and pose a “burden” for companies. The other says those regulations protect workers’ health and safety.

Sound familiar?

The issue that has been a prominent part of the U.S. political conversation for some time now is not confined to this country.

Economy v. workers

European trade unions are pushing back against an effort to simplify some European Union (EU) legislation. The European Commission -- which is leading the effort -- says the laws dampen economic vitality. The unions call the move an “ideologically oriented” program that endangers workers’ rights.

Dubbed ‘Refit’ (short for Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme), this initiative could, according to a statement by the European Trade Unions Institute (ETUI), “have devastating effects on a large number of EU directives and regulations dealing with health and safety at work, social dialogue, information and consultation, environmental issues, etc.”

The Commission, which unveiled its plans last October, says they will simplify some EU directives that would represent an "administrative burden" for companies.

The unions have been mobilizing to reverse this regulatory trend. The European Trade Union Confederation has set up a poster campaign to raise awareness among its member organizations and their affiliates.

In Belgium, the three trade union confederations FGTB, CSC and CGSLB have launched a joint action focused on their national politicians.

Pointed questions

Candidates running in the European elections in Belgium in May of 2014 will be asked questions like:

  • "Are you, or not, in favour of blocking the European regulations on health and safety at work?"
  • "Do you want the rules protecting workers against carcinogenic substances to be extended or not?”

Belgian unions have also put together a new website on which action tools such as letters, postcards, draft mails, petitions and publications are made available to other unions, enabling them to adapt these tools to their national context and launch their own initiatives.

Like a "bad outbreak of gastric flu"

In the United Kingdom, a country whose government has been playing a pioneering role in the deregulatory wave that is spreading across Europe, the TUC has launched a strongly-worded attack on the Refit programme.

“There have been attacks on compensation, reporting requirements, protection for the self-employed and the ban on proactive inspections in most sectors. Unfortunately they are now exporting their anti-worker position into Europe and it is spreading like a bad outbreak of gastric flu,” wrote Hugh Robertson, TUC Senior Policy Officer for Health and Safety, on the TUC blog Stronger Unions.