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24th Aug 2019

EU court judgements affecting Irish treaty campaign

  • Ireland is the only country to hold a referendum on the EU treaty, on 12 June (Photo: EUobserver)

The Irish government's official campaign in favour of the EU's Lisbon Treaty has been dealt a blow following the decision by a major union to speak out against the document.

The Technical Engineering and Electrical Union on Monday (5 May) urged its 45,000 members to vote against the treaty in the referendum next month.

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General secretary of the TEEU Eamon Devoy took the stance on the back of recent judgements by the EU's highest court which he said had shown that the pendulum had "swung against workers' rights and in favour of big business.

"In the circumstances, it would be foolish to provide the institutions of the European Union with more power," he added, according to the Irish Independent.

Mr Davoy cited three judgements with major implications for workers. The Laval case found against Swedish workers who had been blockading a building site to prevent Latvian workers, with lower wages, from accessing the site.

The Viking judgement concerned a Finnish company that used cheaper Estonian workers on its boats while the latest case, known as the Ruffert judgement, found that the EU's internal market principle of freedom of services takes precedence over collective bargaining deals.

Mr Davoy cited incidents concerning workers in Ireland that he suggested would be undermined by the court's findings.

"Twice in recent times we have found Polish workers ... being grossly exploited by German contractors and paid as little as €5 an hour. In another instance, we discovered Serbian electricians being paid as little as $3.81 an hour. We were only able to ensure proper rates were paid to these workers after strong pressure, including the prospect of industrial action, was exerted on the companies concerned," he said, according to the Irish Times.

He noted that the Ruffert judgement would make it "all but impossible" for Irish workers and companies to compete for tenders.

The Irish government is now likely to be nervously looking ahead to 18 May when the Irish Congress of Trade Unions takes its stance on the treaty.

Dublin's pro-treaty stance has already been thrown out of kilter by Irish farmers, who have warned of a No stance if current world talks on liberalising trade result in damage to their livelihoods. The talks are being conducted for the bloc by EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson.

Ireland is the only country to hold a referendum on the EU treaty, which has to be approved by all member states if it is to come into force.

Irish foreign minister Dermot Ahern has reportedly tried to play down the significance of a possible No vote.

"'There would be no dire consequence should the referendum go amiss,' Ahern insisted. 'Life will go on as it did after the French and Dutch rejected the European constitutional treaty in 2005,'" said a report in the Irish Times of an interview he gave to the Buenos Aires Herald last month.

However, analysts widely suggest it will be politically hugely damaging to the EU if Ireland votes no on 12 June.

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