Richard Corbett's blog

Thomas Cook’s collapse shows why EU protections are essential

In the light of the the collapse of Thomas Cook and the loss of jobs and inconvenience to thousands of holidaymakers, it is worth reflecting on the safety nets and support that our EU membership entitles us to in such terrible situations.

Last month, around 21,000 workers in 16 countries, including 9,000 workers in the UK, found themselves unemployed following the collapse of Thomas Cook. And hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers were stranded around the world. 

Despite knowing Thomas Cook’s situation, the UK government sat back and watched the company fold, with all the loss of jobs and inconvenience to ordinary holidaymakers that this created. Thomas Cook’s bosses said business secretary Andrea Leadsom did not even speak to their executives leading up to its collapse.

Luckily, the Civil Aviation Authority and local companies, such as Andrew Earle’s Holidays in Hull, and Hay’s Travel in Sunderland worked round the clock to get people home.

This collapse demonstrated where more needs to be done to protect both passengers and employees. This week, the European Parliament called for more action to defend those affected by the Thomas Cook bankruptcy, and proposed new legislation on the protection of workers in the event of insolvency and for repatriation of stranded passengers, including the establishment of a special fund for this purpose.

Protecting rights at European level is important, both to deal with cross-border situations such as this one, and to prevent a race to the bottom where unscrupulous companies can locate in the country with the weakest legal protections. This is why the Party of European Socialists manifesto for the European elections earlier this year, on which I was elected as a Labour MEP, called for  a series of measures to strengthen social protections across the single European market.

The Parliament’s resolution also highlights EU tools and regulations which are already in place to protect the rights of workers and consumers in case of business failure. There is also EU funding available for such situations that the UK could make use of in situations of insolvency. The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund and the European Social Fund offer possibilities to help workers made redundant and companies that have been damaged by the collapse of Thomas Cook. The UK government could and should make use of these funds to provide training and assistance for those seeking new jobs. 

After all, we are still full members of the European Union, and this is just one example of the many protections and support that UK workers and passengers will lose if we leave, with or without a deal.