As some of you know, in my capacity as Labour Spokesperson in the European Parliament on Culture, I have regular meetings with the trade unions and other sympathetic organisations, including BECTU, Equity, NUJ, Musicians Union, Writers’ Guild, and the British Film Council. I met them yesterday at Equity’s headquarters in Covent Garden. These meetings are always valuable for me and keep me in touch with what is going on. As a Labour representative, I am always pleased to work with trade unions. Many union activists also do a lot of work for the Labour Party. Meeting trade unionists also helps me to keep in touch.
This is what we discussed yesterday:
1. The Working Time Directive (The 48 hour working week) The European Parliament voted in favour of abolishing the UK’s opt-out. The UK’s opt-out has been in place since 1993. 14 other member states also currently have an opt-out. The directive is now likely to go into “conciliation” – which is the final stage of negotiations with Council. The Council must come to agreement for the Directive to become law. The conciliation procedure will not start officially until 17 March, and can last up to a maximum of 8 weeks. If conciliation goes ahead, there are two possible outcomes:
a) there is no agreement and the legislation will not come into effect and the 1993 position will remain or
b) agreement on a joint text at the end of conciliation which has to be put to the vote by “qualified majority voting” in the Council and simple majority in the European Parliament.
If it passes this stage, no exceptions to the 48 hours-maximum working week will be allowed (subject to some special arrangements for emergency services). The UK will be allowed a further period of three years from the date of it being approved by Council until it must implement the Directive. It therefore unlikely to come into force in the UK until 2013 at the earliest.
However, the 48 hours maximum will be averaged out over a 12 month period. This means that it becomes incredibly difficult for even the hardest workers to exceed the limit.
It is unclear at this stage whether a consensus can be reached.
2. Equality of treatment and access for men and women in the performing arts.
This week the Women´s committee will vote on this report. It seeks to highlight the inequalities in career prospects and opportunities between women and men in the performing arts sector and in other professions relating to this sphere which means that skills and talent are left undiscovered and artistic dynamism hampered. The report calls on member states to pursue specific action, including:
analysing mechanisms and behaviour that produce these inequalities.
encouraging and promoting women to further careers in the performing arts where they are under-represented.
encouraging fair selection processes (i.e. – orchestra auditions to always be held behind a screen)
removing obstacles faced by women in pursuing high level positions of responsibility in cultural institutions, academies and universities, such as disparities in duration of careers, conditions of employment, and salaries.
I have been working closely with organisations such as the Federation of International Actors and spoke at a meeting they organised in the European Parliament in Brussels earlier this year. In that speech I emphasised the challenges women in the arts face in overcoming the predominant sexual stereotypes and as well as age discrimination. I hope to continue to help people overcome these barriers and to promote the UK’s creative industries in general.