Ireland: “No to EU directive that undermines a decent wage, conditions and union rights”

Socialist MP condemns EU Services Directive neo-liberal attack

The following exchange between Joe Higgins, Socialist Party (CWI) member of parliament (Dáil Éireann) and Irish government Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Micheál Martin, over the EU Services Directive – which marks a new attack on workers’ rights, pay and conditions across the European Union – took place during a Private Members’ Business, Motion on EU Services Directive, in Dáil Éireann 26 January 2005,

“No to EU directive that undermines a decent wage, conditions and union rights”

Joe Higgins (Socialist Party)

I warmly commend my colleagues in the Independent section of the Technical Group on this timely motion. The principles which it lays down are crystal clear, namely, that no directive should be tolerated which would in any way undermine the principles of a decent wage for workers, decent conditions and trade union rights in the workplace.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment came into the House yesterday and stated that "unfortunately, much confusion surrounds this directive because of its complexity", implying that its opponents are a bunch of dul amús, too stupid to understand its crucial implications because of its complexity. Time and again the Minister has criticised the directive’s opponents without dealing in any way with the nub of their reservations, which have been outlined clearly and excellently in the debate by both Members and outside groups.

However, the Minister undermined the directive in his speech. He was forced to so do because he knows the concern that exists among workers throughout Europe. He stated:

[W]e [the Government] are as concerned as anyone else is in this House … with issues of standards, especially employment standards. This is why, for anyone who cares to look at the latest draft of the directive, one will see more than 300 footnotes of reservations, many of them from Ireland.

Why would there be 300 reservations, many dealing with the erosion of workers’ standards, if this document was not a massive attack on those standards to begin with? In this instance, the Minister has admitted the case. Furthermore, he stated:

We can have a very agitated debate about the country of origin principle, although this would amount to a great deal of wasted energy and hot air. All the indications are … that the Commission intends to amend significantly that aspect of the directive.

In other words, the Minister concedes the point.

Minister Micheál Martin


J. Higgins

He does. Why should it be grievously and seriously amended if it already protected workers’ rights?

Finian McGrath (Independent)

Hear, hear.

J. Higgins

While the Minister has come out with much political bluff, he has been forced to concede that the directive must be fundamentally changed if it is to be acceptable to European workers. A short time ago, Deputy [member Dáil Éireann] Fiona O’Malley stated that "a welcome but modest level of honesty is finally creeping into the debate on this issue". While her comment was aimed at the Opposition, perhaps she should have directed her remarks towards her Minister.

The European Commission is pushing a right wing neoliberal agenda and wishes to drive down wages and conditions. The proof can be seen in Commissioner McCreevy’s attitude towards the Vaxholm Laval case in Sweden where he clearly stands with the exploiter against the Swedish trade unions who are trying to protect wages and conditions of migrant workers operating in Sweden. Workers in the European Union cannot rely on the Government to protect their rights. They must rely on their own power and organisation to fight a relentless drive by the major corporations to drive down wages and conditions to maximise profits. In recent years, we have seen many struggles by working people in Europe in this respect.

As far as Irish workers are concerned, I vehemently disagree with the idea floated by the leader of the Labour Party, namely, that a new regime of work permits is the way to protect workers’ rights.

F. McGrath

Hear, hear.

J. Higgins

I remind Members that the biggest scandal of exploitation of migrant labour in the history of the State – the Gama case – was carried out under the regime of work permits. Members have also witnessed many other examples during that time. Naturally, the Government’s attack on the Labour Party leader has been completely hypocritical.

While we need a strengthening of inspectors and laws protecting workers’ rights, we especially need the wider labour movement and the trade union movement to launch a militant campaign to expose and isolate bosses who would exploit either migrant or Irish workers. We have a swathe of low-paid Irish workers who are being hugely exploited in our society. An energetic and imaginative campaign of organising the unorganised workers, be they migrants or Irish-born, is how we will build a strong united movement of the working class in this country. That is the only real answer to the attempts now being made by the European Commission and by governments throughout Europe which are supported by the Government.

Therefore, molaim an rún seo agus an grúpa a chuir os comhair na Dála é. Tháinig pointí an-tábhachtacha trasna sa díospoireacht, go háirithe faoi chearta an lucht oibre sa tír seo, ina measc cearta oibrithe a thagann ón dtaobh amuigh – imircigh. Tá sé an-tábhachtach ar fad, agus molaim an rún mar a bhí sé i dtosach don Dáil.

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