Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

Workers' rights hot topic in Lisbon 2 campaign

  • Trade unions across Europe are divided over Lisbon (Photo: ETUC)

Ireland's second biggest trade union on Monday encouraged its members to vote No in the country's upcoming referendum on the Irish Treaty, accusing the document of cementing restrictions on workers' rights delivered in a series of recent decisions by the European Court of Justice.

Unite, a joint Anglo-Irish trade union, representing some 60,000 workers in Ireland, warned that the additional guarantees extracted by the government after the treaty was defeated in the country's first referendum last June covered ‘moral' issues but were insufficient in protecting employee protections and rights.

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"We were told that workers' rights would be protected under Lisbon and that we were scaremongering," said the union's Irish regional secretary, Jimmy Kelly, according to a report in the Irish Times. "When the Irish government went seeking legal guarantees they got them in areas of taxation, of morality, and in numbers of commissioners but not in relation to workers' rights."

"Instead we got a ‘solemn declaration' that is worthless given the way in which the European Courts have interpreted workers' rights as being subservient to those of business," he added.

The union, which opposed the the treaty during the last referendum as well, has also offered its building for use by the Vote No to Lisbon campaign, prominently backed by the Socialist Party of Dublin MEP Joe Higgins and Sinn Fein, the republican party.

A number of trade unions back the treaty, however, with the pro-Treaty ‘Charter Group' last week issuing a report arguing that the European Union had been a force for worker protection for 35 years in Ireland.

In the last referendum, Ireland's traditional neutrality and the loss of a commissioner were forefront amongst the issues that mobilised voters against the treaty last year.

The government received guarantees on abortion, taxation and military neutrality while EU leaders agreed that each member state should continue to have a European commissioner. Additionally, the main group campaigning against the treaty on the basis of taxation concerns last year, the Libertas group of businessman Declan Ganley, is nowhere to be seen after a desultory showing during the European elections.

This has meant that the issue of employee protections is shaping up to be one of the key debates in the campaign.

On Saturday, former president of the European Parliament Pat Cox and newly elected Socialist MEP Joe Higgins sparred bitterly in the pages of the Irish Times, which published an email exchange between the two, focussing almost exclusively on the issue of workers' rights.

The issue has come to the forefront across the EU, with even very pro-EU trade unionists disquieted by four recent decisions by the European Court of Justice - the so-called Laval, Ruffert, Viking and Luxembourg cases - in which the court sided with employers on questions of honouring agreements, the right to picket, wage increase indexing and the cutting of wages.

Mr Cox argued that the treaty endorses a "social market economy" and gives the Charter of Fundamental Rights, a list of the rights of European citizens including worker protections, a legal basis.

The ‘moral' questions have not disappeared however, with Coir, the conservative Catholic group recently launched a fundraising drive, asking for €120,000 in donations to help them send out a planned one million leaflets and stick up 12,000 posters against the treaty.

A letter from Coir sent to supporters from the organisation's Father John Brady, first seen by the Irish Independent newspaper, reads: "We need to lead this battle against a treaty which would bring about a new empire, where the unborn child has no rights, and God himself is forgotten."

Separately, pro-Treaty civil society group We Belong launched its campaign on Sunday, and intends to focus on young people. A survey published by the group notes that while 36 percent of voters aged 24-40 intend to vote Yes and only 23 percent intend to vote No, four in ten voters in the age group remain undecided.

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