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Dole surge as treaty vote goes to the wire

THE dole queues are swelling by nearly 1,000 people a week -- and things will worsen if the Lisbon Treaty is rejected, the 'Yes' camp warned yesterday.

Record unemployment figures revealed yesterday prompted 'Yes' campaigners to warn it is no time to gamble on the economy.

The numbers drawing the dole have risen by a record 48,000 in the past year, and by nearly 28,000 since the start of the year, with unemployment breaking the 200,000 mark for the first time in almost a decade.

The alarming figures, which detail the full extent of the economic slowdown, have come just two days before the country is due to vote on the Lisbon Treaty. 'Yes' campaigners cautioned against sending out a negative message about the country in tomorrow's referendum at a time of such enormous economic challenges.

The Central Statistics Office figures show in the year to May, there was a jump of 47,746 or 31pc in the number of people signing on. The slowdown in the construction sector is also starkly evident, with more than three times as many men joining the register as women.

'Yes' campaigners in the opposition stressed that voters must be aware of the economic impact of the outcome of the referendum.

And on the eve of the treaty vote, EU governments agreed on a new law which trade unions say will end the "exploitation" of worker hired from recruitment agencies.

Under the directive, they will be entitled to the same pay, working conditions and benefits as workers hired directly by the firm. Recruitment agencies will be banned from charging fees, which can run up to €20,000, for putting workers on their books.

Jack O'Connor, president of the country's biggest union, gave a strong endorsement of the role of the EU in improving workers' rights, even though SIPTU is not formally recommending a 'Yes' vote.

"It is clear that most of the improvements in workers' rights will come from Europe: they were retarded by Irish governments for many years," Mr O'Connor said.

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"I am not saying workers will do better if there is a 'No' vote, or that we can negotiate something better ourselves. We are prepared to support the Lisbon Treaty, but only if we are assured that all aspect of it will be applied in this country."

The new law will also give a boost to the national pay talks.

David Begg, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said the position of agency workers has been a potential deal-breaker.

Bargaining

"There are still issues such as the right to collective bargaining, pensions and public procurement, but there is no doubt this directive is a tremendous help." He believed it was coincidence that the news came on the eve of the referendum.

"Certainly, we had no part in the timing. The meeting of governments had been scheduled for some time and I think they wanted agreement before the end of the Slovene EU presidency."

Earlier, Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar said the economic situation is going to get worse as the dark days of the 1980s are returning, but a 'No' vote would be even more detrimental.

Labour's Willie Penrose said the Live Register figures mean there can be no remaining doubt, about the seriousness of the job situation.

But he also said a 'Yes' vote was vital for the economy.

"The last thing we need, at times of such economic nervousness, is to create uncertainty in terms of our relationship with Europe."

Worried

The Government was stressing it was worried about the jobs figures but was doing everything to address the unemployment problem.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen was wary about directly linking the rising unemployment levels to Lisbon vote tomorrow.

Nonetheless, he was abundantly clear about the economic implications of the result of the referendum as he said there was "no room for complacency".

Clearly referring to the prospect of a 'No' vote, he also warned voters against doing anything to put the country "at a disadvantage".

"There's an international downturn. We're feeling that. Other countries are as well. Thankfully our unemployment is still relatively low compared to competitors, but there's absolutely no room for complacency. And what we need to do is recognise that we don't want to do anything that would put us at a disadvantage in the context of more robust times that are coming," he told the Irish Independent.

Mr Cowen said what is being seen in the Live Register are the challenges we are facing in the economy.

"We need to ensure we have a clear sense of direction of where we are going and how Europe can help us in relation to that. It's just a function of more uncertain times and the need for us to take a responsible view going forward. As I've said Ireland has been good for Europe, Europe has been good for us and it's the framework in which we operate and I think it's important we say 'Yes' on that basis," he said.


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