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23 February 2006 Edition

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Services Directive Passed

The Services Directive is the EU attempt to undermine working conditions, push down wages, undermine trade unions, and pit workers against each other.

The EU Parliament voted on the Directive last Thursday 16 February. Upwards of 50,000 trade unionists demonstrated in Strasbourg on 14 February, in advance of the debate in the European Parliament. Added to the more than 10,000 people from social movements and NGOs who demonstrated on 11 February.

Sinn Féins objectives going into the vote were first to reject the Directive and, if not rejected, to exclude as many sectors as possible from its scope and shift the emphasis from regulation by country of origin to regulation by the country of destination. Bairbre de Brún MEP signed a series of amendments by the Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) to this effect.

The Socialist Group, which includes Labour's Proinsias De Rossa, cooked up a compromise with the right-wing European People's Party, allowing the Directive to pass with some amendments. An appalling proposal has now been turned into a very bad proposal.

Three hundred and ninety four MEPs voted in favour, including Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Ulster Unionists, Labour and Marian Harkin. Voting against were 215 MEPs, including Sinn Féin, Kathy Sinnott MEP, and the DUPs Jim Allister. This was an extraordinary achievement given the misinformation being put out. The compromise does little more than provide political cover for the Labour Party, allowing them to misrepresent the revised Directive as something positive for workers.

The parliament rejected amendments that explicitly excluded various important sectors from the Directive. These included consumer protection, services of general economic interest, services of social interest, education, higher education and research, waste management, health-related services, water management, environmental services, storage of dangerous goods, services related to culture and postal services.

They also included in the directive the construction industry, architects, accountants, and the information technology industry.

The "country of origin" principle has not been abolished even if it is renamed the "freedom to provide services". The European Commission has already stated that the European Court of Justice, which has the final say concerning the interpretation of the directive, intends to use the country of origin principle as its legal basis. The Labour Party voted against an amendment that would have put in its place a country of destination principle.

The Directive allows major service providers, using the employment legislation of countries with weaker standards and lower wages, to offer its services throughout the EU through the use of "self-employed" workers, putting service providers in Ireland out of business, or at the very least forcing them to cut wages and cut corners in order to compete.

The revised Directive makes it impossible for a democratically-elected Irish government to protect and defend the rights of the consumers and workers living in Ireland, if it wished to do so.

Multinational companies and EU bureaucrats have clearly won this round. But the struggle now moves to the national level with Sinn Féin and others seeking to build support against the Directive and for the protection and extension workers rights in Ireland and Europe.

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