Healthcare union Unison has announced that it will be encouraging its 1.3 million members to vote to remain part of the European Union on 23 June.
It is the first health or nursing union to declare an official position on whether it wants to leave or remain in the EU ahead of the forthcoming referendum.
“Europe isn’t perfect, but on balance staying in the EU has so much more to offer nurses”
The decision was taken on Wednesday at a meeting of the union’s governing committee. It follows a six-week consultation and survey across its network of branches, involving around 60,000 people.
In the consultative survey, 78% of Unison’s branches wanted the union to take a stance in the EU referendum, of which 95% called for it to campaign for the UK to stay in Europe.
The fear that “Brexit” would mean the loss of the many workplace rights such as parental leave, paid holiday, protection for part-timers and limits on excessive hours was the most important issue raised by the union’s overwhelmingly female membership, it said.
Such concerns were closely followed by worries about the future of the country’s public services if the UK opted to go it alone, added the union.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis 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.
“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,” he claimed.
The union also quoted one of its member James Anthony, who is a nurse specialist. He said: “Without the migrant health workers who’ve come to work in the UK from across Europe, the NHS would have gone under years ago.
“The health service is under pressure like never before, but its plight would be considerably worse if it were to suffer all the economic and political turmoil that Brexit would bring,” he said.
The vote on 23 June is in the middle of Unison’s national conference in Brighton, meaning its members will need to apply for postal or proxy votes if they want to vote and attend the event.
“Labour is looking forward to campaigning with Union’s members from health”
The Labour Party, which is also officially in favour of staying in the EU and has strong ties with Unison, welcomed the decision.
Heidi Alexander, Labour’s health secretary, said: “With 1.3 million members working in our vital public services, Unison are right to make the case that nurses, cleaners and carers are protected by remaining in the EU.
“Labour is looking forward to campaigning with Union’s members from health, local government, education, energy and police branches to make the case for Britain’s EU membership,” she added.