British unions are ready to join the fight to remain in the EU IBTimes UK

Top Labour MP Harriet Harman has branded the EU as "faceless", "male-dominated" and "baffling" as she urged female voters to back a 'remain' vote on in the EU referendum on 23 June 2016. The former cabinet minister stressed that despite all of these faults, Brussels has nonetheless been a strong ally of women in the workplace.

"It's easy to overlook, but it's impossible to overstate how important the EU has been in our struggle for women's rights at work," Harman said, addressing a group of female workers at insurance giant Lloyds of London on 13 May.

"Some of our rights actually came directly from the EU, some of our rights were enhanced because of the EU and, crucially, our rights as women at work can't be taken away as they are guaranteed by our membership of the EU.

"This is a paradox because the EU is every bit as woefully male-dominated as our own political institutions. But despite that, the historical fact is that the EU has led and strengthened our rights as women at work in this country and we shouldn't take that for granted.

"Faceless bureaucrats they may be, but the EU has been a strong friend to British women at work."

Harman, a former lawyer, listed some of the rights enforced by the 28-nation-bloc, including directives from Brussels on parental leave and pregnancy rules for employers.

In an attack on prominent Brexit campaigners, she added: "Honestly, why should we trust the likes of Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith or Nigel Farage with our rights as women? Even if they say they guarantee them, which they haven't? I don't trust them as far as I can throw them."

The comments come after the Trades Union Congress, GMB, Unite, Unison and other trade unions have thrown their support behind the 'remain' campaign, warning that a Brexit could allow the government to undermine workers' rights in the UK.

But rail unions Aslef and the RMT are backing a 'leave' vote at the referendum alongside some Labour MPs, such as Vote Leave chair Gisela Stuart. "Whether it is in cars, labour law, banking or food, many of the rules governing Europe's internal market are now agreed globally, with the EU acting as a costly middleman to pass them down," she argued in April.

Harriet Harman, pro-EU campaigner
Harriet Harman served as acting leader of the Labour Party until Jeremy Corbyn was elected in September 2015 Getty