Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Britain's Job Strategy Gets Pressure from EU ECONOMIC RECOVERY

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Britain's Job Strategy Gets Pressure from EU ECONOMIC RECOVERY

Article excerpt

THE British government's strategy of fueling economic recovery partly through creating new but poorly paid jobs - many of them part-time and held by women - is coming under pressure from the European Union.

Prime Minister John Major's Conservative Party has signaled that it wants to continue the policy of promoting labor market flexibility. The policy has boosted productivity in Britain and kept the unemployment rate (9.7 percent) lower than that of EU rivals like France (12.2 percent) and Spain (23.9 percent).

However, the European Commission in Brussels is pressing the government to extend the employment rights of low-paid workers. The result is that the economies British managers have been able to make by employing a high proportion of part-timers, and keeping their wages low, are under threat.

Patrick Minford, an economist at Liverpool University, was one of the driving forces behind the low-wage strategy when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, and he still calls it "the best answer" to Britain's growth problems.

He points out that there are 20 million unemployed in the EU, and the figure is rising. In Britain, jobless numbers are falling about 100,000 every three months.

A closer look at the British statistics, however, confirms that the progress Mr. Minford approves has been bought at a human price.

A high proportion of new jobs are part-time, low-paid, or both. Many who have left one job for another have had to accept a lower income and living standard.

John Hawkins, a home-loans adviser in London, is earning 5 ($7.50) an hour on a short-term contract. Two years ago, he was laid off by a bank that paid him three times as much for what he thought was a tenured position. "I am now technically employed," he says, "but my employers have got the best deal, and my family is suffering."

A determined bid to protect such arrangements lay behind the government's refusal last year to sign the Maastricht Treaty's "social chapter," which aims to safeguard workers' rights. David Hunt, the employment secretary, says applying it would undercut Britain's economic recovery and "destroy jobs."

Government critics point to the trend toward part-time and temporary employment of women. …

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