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Charter of Fundamental Rights will not protect workers’ rights

27 May, 2008


Speaking at a seminar organised by the Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU) today Dublin Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said the Charter of Fundamental Rights contained in the Lisbon Treaty will not protect workers' rights. Ms. McDonald said the Lisbon Treaty advances a policy agenda that treats workers rights as an afterthought.

She said, "There is growing concern within the trade union movement that workers protections are being undermined by recent judgments by the European Court of Justice. I share these concerns. The Lisbon Treaty was an opportunity to address the continuing erosion of workers rights; unfortunately this opportunity has been missed.

"The Lisbon Treaty has failed to address the biggest issue facing workers in Europe, protection of their wages, rights and entitlements. Vulnerable workers are being pitted against each other by unscrupulous employers who seek to undermine domestic pay agreements.

"It is important to stress that the trade union movement is deeply divided on the Lisbon Treaty. The country's largest union, SIPTU, has yet to take a position. UNITE, the second largest union has called for a No vote as has the largest craft workers union the TEEU. I respect ICTU's recent decision to support the Treaty. However it is my firm belief that the Treaty represents a bad deal for Ireland.

"Much has been made of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It's strength as a tool to protect workers rights has been greatly exaggerated.

"Indeed Minister of State for Europe Dick Roche himself acknowledged on the 4th of March that the Charter of Fundamental Rights offers no extension of EU law in relation to fundamental rights. He added that the Charter 'does not extend the field of application of Union law or establish any new power or task for the Union'.

"Similarly the Institute for European Affairs in its analysis of the Charter argued that it 'does not create any new rights' and moreover that the social and economic rights in the Charter 'do not give rise to direct claims for positive action'.

"The Charter does not guarantee the right to strike and states that workers have the right to collective bargaining and to take strike action only 'in accordance with national laws and practices'. The Charter also recognises the 'right' to conduct a business.

"In this context many workers are asking what happens when their rights collide with the 'right' of businesses to provide services. The answer is to be found in the three recent European Court of Justice decisions, business comes first.

"This begs the question, will the Lisbon Treaty make things worse or better? In my view not only is the Lisbon Treaty a missed opportunity to address these concerns but it advances a policy agenda that treats workers rights as an afterthought." ENDS

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