Britain: Lowest-Paid Labor in EC for Europeans, Integration Will Mean Sharp Curbs on Domestic Policy: Part 2 of a 4-Part Series

Article excerpt

THE timing couldn't have been much more poignant: Only days after Britain's insistence that it be exempt from the European Community's newly negotiated social policy - a policy it argued was merely a euphemism for Europe-wide labor regulations - a study published this week showed Britain with the highest proportion of low-wage workers in the Community.

For its 11 EC partners, Britain's distinction is undoubtedly a dubious one, and vindication of the rest of the Community's push ahead on employment issues.

The survey results reflect Britain's traditionally very different approach to employer-employee negotiations from those practiced on the continent.

And it was those "differences" that Prime Minister John Major could not afford to be seen giving up at the EC summit in Maastricht, Netherlands, before an election.

The survey, conducted by a French economic research organization, found Britain's high proportion of low-paid workers to be a result of its absence of a minimum wage, and its tradition of negotiating wages at the individual company level. On the continent, contract bargaining is generally carried out industry-wide, and minimum wages are set by government.

Even though the debate over the new treaty's social chapter nearly brought the Maastricht negotiations to a halt, most observers find the policy as it was adopted so vague and drained of force that it would make little difference even in Britain.

The policy forbids any Community-wide action regarding pay and wages, and calls for respect of "diverse national practices" in contractual relations. …