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30 October 2008 Edition

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This news feature is funded by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)

European Parliament opposes social progress

THE European Parliament has adopted a report which has no legislative value, makes vague statements about collective agreements and generally bemoans the fact that the European Court of Justice has ruled to restrict workers’ rights and to undermine pay and conditions.
The report on collective agreements in the EU was drafted by Swedish Social Democrat MEP Jan Andersson, who in his desperation to get a majority for his report made a series of disastrous concessions to the conservatives in the European Parliament.
Several Irish MEPs spoke in the debate, the first of which was Mary Lou McDonald, who had been tasked by the GUE/NGL group with following the report through the European Parliament.
She observed:
“The court rulings are a reflection of the legal status quo, a reflection of the fact that, when workers’ rights collide with the rules of competition, it is the rule of competition which prevails. The court rulings have given legal legitimacy to what is called the ‘race to the bottom’.”
She expressed her disappointment that the report “deliberately avoids calling for changes to the EU treaties that we all know are needed to protect workers. This call for treaty change was deliberately and cynically removed from the first draft of this report despite the overwhelming calls from the trade union movement across Europe for a social progress clause to be inserted in the treaties.”
The Dublin MEP continued:
“The vulnerability of workers’ rights was one of the main reasons for the Irish vote against the Lisbon Treaty, even though EU leaders conveniently prefer to ignore this uncomfortable fact. If any new treaty is to be acceptable to people across Europe, then it must ensure adequate protection for workers.”
In finishing she warned that in passing a report which ignores this reality “the European Parliament will have taken yet another step away from the people we purport to represent, and in this case I have no doubt that Irish workers will share my disappointment that the European Parliament has let them down.”

The next Irish MEP to speak, Proinsias De Rossa, jumped to the defence of the report’s author, and fellow member of the PES (Socialist) group, focussing on the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive, saying:
“The internal market is not an end in itself. It is an instrument for the improvement of living and working conditions for everyone, and therefore weaknesses in the Posting of Workers Directive which can be used to facilitate a race to the bottom must be removed as a matter of urgency.”
He ignored the fact that, according to the EU treaties, the internal market is an end in itself and that in any conflict between the internal market and living and working conditions, the former trumps the latter every time. No amount of revision of the Posting of Workers Directive will change that.
De Rossa also neglected to mention that he would not support an amendment to the report calling for the treaties to be amended to reverse this situation (and to give legal effect to his wishes).
Marian Harkin was next up, correctly observing that “in the recent debate on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, the issues thrown up by the Laval and Viking cases were centre-stage in many of the debates and contributed to real uncertainty and unease”.
Again, she refused to draw the obvious conclusion concerning the need for treaty change, saying instead that “the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the inclusion of the social clause in the Lisbon Treaty would have improved the situation of workers across the EU”.

Bairbre de Brún homed in on the real issue at hand: “Trade unions are losing their rights to negotiate improvements in the pay and conditions of their members. Governments are being forbidden to legislate for improvements in the lives of workers.
“A binding Social Progress Clause in the EU treaties is the minimum required to ensure that such a thing does not happen.
“Workers across Europe have the right to have the EU to live up to its rhetoric about a Social Europe.”
After the vote, Mary Lou McDonald slammed Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael MEPs for voting against the Social Progress Clause which is to be included in any future treaties put to member states. (Interestingly, Proinsias De Rossa abstained on the vote, a key demand of trade unions across the EU.)
Mary Lou said:
“The Irish Government is in an excellent bargaining position to ensure that any new treaty deal must include a binding Social Progress Clause. Going by today’s vote, it appears they do not have the political will to do so.”

NB: In the vote on the Social Progress Clause, Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald voted in favour. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael MEPs voted against, along with Jim Allister, Marian Harkin and Jim Nicholson. Proinsias De Rossa and Kathy Sinnott abstained.

  • The European Trade Union Confederation is planning a European demonstration in March 2009 to, amongst other issues, raise the pressure on the Council to do something about the ECJ judgements. It is expected that the introduction of a Social Progress Clause into the EU treaties will feature prominently in that demonstration.

Condemnation of new ‘strip-search’ body-scanners for airports

MEPs Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald have jointly acted in spearheading EU Parliament opposition to proposed new ‘body scanners’ which could be installed in Irish airports by 2010.
The all-Ireland team of MEPs both put their names to a parliament resolution criticising the proposed introduction of the machines which civil liberties groups have described as “shameful, undignified and demeaning”.
Bairbre de Brún rounded on the plans, saying:
“This measure is unnecessary, unjustified and invasive. The Commission has brought forward this plan without assessing the impact on fundamental rights or human health or even if they are cost-efficient. I am glad to have signed this strong message from all groups in the parliament calling for a rethink to this ill-conceived plan.”
Her colleague, Mary Lou McDonald, was equally scathing:
“The idea that any member state parliament would subject its young and elderly to such an inappropriate experience when travelling is difficult to rationalise. 
“It is clear now that the EU Commission does not have the support of the parliament on this issue, therefore it has no option but to drop its intention to introduce body scanners into member state airports.”


De Brún challenges local authorities to ‘go green’

SIX-COUNTY MEP and EU Parliament Environment Committee member Bairbre de Brún has called for the Assembly and local councils to prioritise clean transport in their provision of public services.
Speaking during a debate last week in Strasbourg on the issue, de Brún stated:
“It is right to challenge local authorities and other public bodies to lead the way in investing in sustainable, clean transport.
“Public procurement should be based on sustainability. When public bodies are buying trucks, cars or buses they should look not only at the price but also factor in energy efficiency, air pollution and lower CO2 emissions.
“A new EU directive aims to help guide local authorities in assessing these impacts.
“In our cities in particular, choosing efficient, green transport options will benefit the health of citizens and our environment, and help us meet our climate commitments.
“Crucially, it can also act as a market catalyst for clean transport options, thus bringing down costs through economies of scale. These long-term benefits should also be considered by those in charge of public procurement.”


Homelessness needs to stay firmly on the agenda

MARY LOU McDonald hosted a press conference in Strasbourg with fellow MEPs Jean-Marie Beaupuy (French Liberal) and Claude Moraes (British Labour) demanding that the EU Parliament follow up on its commitment to end street homelessness by 2015.
In April of this year, Written Declaration 111 (to end street homelessness in the EU by 2015) became EU policy. Speaking during at a press conference in Strasbourg, the MEP noted that “the declaration is not simply as aspiration of the parliament but an objective that must be achieved.
“The declaration puts a renewed political impetus into the Irish Government’s commitment to end street homelessness by 2010. By delivering on our domestic commitment of 2010, Ireland can set an example and lead the way in ensuring all EU member states meet the 2015 deadline.
“Homelessness is one of the big challenges facing the European Union, a challenge we are more than capable of overcoming if we set ourselves a strategic approach that delivers results.
“The objective of ending street homelessness in all EU member states can and should be achieved. It simply needs the political will of member state governments and EU institutions to make it happen.”


Temporary agency workers

THE European Parliament has made some progress on the issue of agency workers with the adoption of a report on the issue agreeing with the position of the Council of Ministers.
The objective of the Directive on Temporary Agency Work is to ensure the protection of temporary agency workers compared with other workers as regards employment status and security, including pay, from day one.
The problems are that while temporary agency work is on the increase, the directive limits member states’ possibilities to restrict the use of temporary workers and that the report is riddled with derogations and opt-outs.
Speaking on behalf of the GUE/NGL group, Portuguese MEP Pedro Guerreiro said:
“Temporary work should be seen as exceptional and its duration should be limited in time.
“Temporary workers should avail of the same rights and protections as those of other workers and these should include those rights laid down in collective agreements for people working in the same sector.”
Cypriot GUE/NGL MEP Kyriacos Triantaphyllides said:
“Temporary workers are exploited by their employers and we should support equal treatment for these workers and ensure that their health and safety are guaranteed.”
He criticised the Commission’s proposal because it tends towards a deregulation of employment rights and the development of new labour market models.
“By supporting this kind of ‘flexicurity’ model, employers can establish temporary work agreements and therefore decrease labour costs and weaken collective agreements,” he explained.
He stressed that member states should maintain the ability to regulate their own labour markets and collective agreements
The directive now needs to be put into law in each EU member state. If past form is anything to go by, the trade union movement in Ireland will have its work cut out to ensure that the Irish Government does not avail of any or all of the loopholes on offer. 


EU Parliament shows two very different faces to Latin America

THE strange place that is the European Parliament showed during this month’s session two very different faces in its dealings with Latin America.
On the one hand – at the invitation of the GUE/NGL group, in which Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald sit – the wives of the Miami 5, a group of Cubans held on political charges in the US on sentences up to and including life sentences, attended a public hearing to explain their plight and that of their husbands.
MEPs heard of the difficulties faced by the wives in trying to visit their husbands in jails in the USA and how MEPs have been disqualified from visiting the prisoners by the American authorities. Both Mary Lou McDonald and Bairbre de Brún attended and expressed their solidarity with the campaign to free the five Cubans.
Later on during the final day of the session, however, the right-wing of the parliament pushed through a resolution containing various allegations and aspersions against Venezuela.
The Socialist group, the Greens and GUE/NGL all agreed to boycott the mock-expression of interest in the South American state and boycotted the vote. That left only 51 right-wing MEPs (out of almost 800 MEPs) to support the resolution.
Among these brave 51 crusaders were seven Irish MEPs, including an almost 100 per cent showing from Fine Gael with Colm Burke, Avril Doyle, Jim Higgins and Mairead McGuinness all supporting the resolution.
They were joined by Kathy Sinnott, Jim Nicholson and Seán Ó Neachtain in the attack on the democratic government of Hugo Chavez.
It has been speculated that MEPs might have been angered by the Chavez tactic of consulting the people via referendum on important constitutional matters.

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