Unison, one of Britain’s largest trade unions, has overcome its “doubts” and will campaign for Britain to remain the EU, it said today.
The 1.3 million member union ended weeks of speculation by confirming it would reject Brexit because of the risk posed to essential workers’ rights.
The decision comes after an overwhelming share of members backed a vote to stay in during a six week internal consultation.
Unison, which represents staff in sectors including the NHS, local authorities, colleges and schools, and the transport sector, said it took the decision because of concerns over the impact of an Out vote on core rights including parental leave, paid holiday, protection for part-timers and limits on excessive hours.
Its member survey provided a clear answer on the EU referendum with nearly four in five (78 per cent) of health, local government, education, energy and police branches asking the union to take a stance in the June 23 poll. Of those, the overwhelming majority (95 per cent) said Unison should campaign for Britain to stay in the bloc.
Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said: “Europe isn’t perfect, but on balance staying in the EU has so much more to offer nurses, teaching assistants, town hall staff and other public servants than an uncertain future where the UK goes it alone.
“Brexit fears have just seen the UK’s growth forecast downgraded [by the IMF]. NHS, local government, school and police employees bore the brunt of the last economic downturn, and are still paying the price. The last thing anyone wants is another recession where jobs, living standards and public services are back on the line.
“Without the laws that began life in Europe, most people at work in the UK would be getting a very rough deal. If the June vote is to leave the EU, it would then be up to the Government which laws stayed and which laws went. Unscrupulous employers would have a field day.
“Unison may have had its doubts about Europe in the past, but now the chips are down and exit is a real possibility, public sector workers know that the services they deliver, and the public that relies on them, will be much better off in than out.”
Prentis was re-elected in December with a strong majority.
Last summer Unison backed Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, saying he was their “recommendation” for members, followed by Yvette Cooper.
Corbyn is due to deliver a long-awaited speech on Europe tomorrow in which he is expected to explain his “journey” from criticism of the EU to support for the In campaign.