In considering how to vote in the forthcoming EU referendum, it is important to read and listen to as many sources as possible including those from people who might otherwise take different views to our own. It is particularly important to listen to voices that are in the background of the debate that is being dominated by the leading politicians on both sides. Because these people know they are in the spotlight, they restrict their words to soundbites and vague concepts which say very little. However in the background there are many others who are not trained in the black arts of how to speak without actually saying very much. One of these voices is a chap called Aru Sivanathan who runs several residential homes for old people and is Chairman of British Tamil Conservatives. On Thursday he wrote an article on the Conservative Way Forward website titled “The European Union damages Britain’s small businesses”. Dr Sivanathan punches a hole through some of the key arguments being promoted by the bigger names on the Brexit side of the debate, perhaps without them realising this. He claims that there are no problems with the so called loss of Sovereignty that some of the Brexiteers have majored on, stating he cannot see any evidence for this. He also has no problems with the immigration issue and in fact he points out that without immigration his business and that of many other business owners would fail. To be fair he argues that one of the reasons for this is that the last Labour Government along with the Cameron premiership have failed to address the skill gap faced by many UK businesses.
However Aru does see a problem with the EU and on that basis wants us to vote to leave, it is here that my views and his are diametrically opposed, even though I too am responsible for the growth of a small business (much smaller than his medium sized one!). His problem is the European Union’s rules and regulations which he claims are some of the most anti-business in the world. ‘The European working directive is a perverse instrument that has stifled service sector growth in the UK. It has increased labour costs in healthcare and similar service sectors ….It transfers income from those who opt to work hard and take little or no holiday to those who take their full allocation of leave and other special holiday entitlements they may have. It also moves income from those who earn a fixed remuneration and are obliged to work until the job gets done, irrespective of how long it takes, to those who get paid on an hourly basis. The net effect is that it punishes strivers while rewarding those who want to just get by…EU health and safety regulations and ‘green’ policies also have a negative effect on SMEs….This not only drives up cost, but also negatively impairs gross profits and equity valuations, thus stifling their ability to grow.’
On the other hand the understanding I have is similar to that expressed by Wikipedia ‘that the working time directive gives EU workers the right to a minimum number of holidays each year, rest breaks, and rest of at least 11 hours in any 24 hours; restricts excessive night work; a day off after a week’s work; and provides for a right to work no more than 48 hours per week……Since excessive working time is cited as a major cause of stress, depression and illness, the stated purpose of the Directive is to protect people’s health and safety.’ It is certainly true that in the short term, protecting workers and focusing on their needs, rather than the gross profit of their work they are engaged in can limit overall profitability. However the long term sustainability of the business, let alone the well being of the employee is put at risk in this scenario. As Aru admits, some of his workers have to work for 100 hours a week to service their mortgages, this clearly puts them at severe risk of burn out. The issue here is not the EU working time directive, but the badly managed housing provision in the UK, something that the is a pressing issue for all of us.
After reading this posting in Conservative way forward, I am more convinced than ever that voting to remain is the best way of protecting the values I believe are embedded within the UK. We have nothing to fear in terms of our Sovereignty, that our two major parties have no real grasp of the needs of business or of housing, that immigration and indeed emigration (the other side of the same coin) is good for the UK and its ex-patriot community and that many of us do benefit from some of the better designed laws which were first developed in Brussels.