Case Study Social Policy

One example of the UK's ambivalence towards the EU is the attitude of governments towards the development of social policy. The Social Chapter, which formed part of the 1991 Maastricht Treaty, is the most significant EU measure to protect workers' rights. John Major's Conservative government initially negotiated an opt-out since it did not want businesses to be held back by 'red tape. When the New Labour government took office in 1997, one of its first actions was to sign up to the Social Chapter. Gains for workers included equal rights for part-time and full-time

workers, parental leave and entitlement to paid annual holidays. However, the Blair government was concerned to strike a balance between social protection and labour-market flexibility,

and was reluctant to support further extension of the EU's role in social policy. The coalition government was also concerned to boost economic growth by giving more freedom to businesses. For example, it increased the minimum period required for workers to claim unfair dismissal from 1 to 2 years of employment. Another conflict arose after the European Court of Justice ruled that time spent by tradesmen travelling to a job must count towards the maximum 48-hour working week. Cameron's government took the side of business leaders, who argued that this would increase their costs.