SIPTU won't back 'Yes' vote before deal on worker rights
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night suffered a further setback in his uphill task of passing the Lisbon Treaty after the country's largest union refused to back a 'Yes' vote.
SIPTU, which represents 276,000 workers, mirrored the stance of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), in making their support conditional on the Government delivering key demands.
But Mr Cowen adopted a tough stance, immediately ruling out any concessions to interested parties in return for support for the treaty.
SIPTU wants the Government to promise to introduce laws to ensure the right to collective bargaining, as provided for in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The union has said it will only recommend support for the Lisbon Treaty if the Government promises to legislate to ensure the right to collective bargaining.
Although welcoming SIPTU's positive views on the contents of the treaty, Mr Cowen ruled out a separate deal on the legislation being demanded before polling day of June 12.
"There has been a linkage made to collective bargaining rights, which is a subject of discussion in the social partnership talks. It's not an issue that will be resolved before the end of June and the discussions are ongoing,'' he said.
"SIPTU see the treaty itself as a good thing and a good treaty for everybody.
I regret the fact there is a linkage but it is their right and entitlement to put that point of view."
Similarly, Mr Cowen reaffirmed his stance on the demands of farmers as he again refused to promise them he would veto a possible World Trade Organisation deal, if it didn't meet their demands.
SIPTU President Jack O'Connor said the treaty provided for workers' collective bargaining rights but the government had not committed to actually legislating for this vital principle.
The union, he said, would not support a "watered down" version of the Lisbon Treaty which would undermine workers' rights.
While the Government "welcomed" support by the union for the contents of the treaty, the Labour Party described as "disappointing" the union's stance, accusing it of "playing politics".
At a time when over one-in-five voters remain undecided, the union's decision leaves the Government under immense pressure to convince the public and workers' representatives alike to vote 'Yes'.
Failure to obtain SIPTU's crucial support came as the Taoiseach faced mounting criticisms from fishermen and hauliers over soaring fuel prices.
Last night, Mr O'Connor stood by the decision of the union's National Executive Council, claiming it had learned from the Government's track record in the aftermath of the Nice Treaty. "Shortly after ratification the government opened the borders to workers from the new accession states in the interests of business, without enhancing our employment protection legislation by one syllable. This facilitated a 'race to the bottom' -- the large scale casualisation of jobs and an explosion of employment agencies," he argued.
In exchange for its support, the union now wants legislation providing for mandatory trade union recognition, the right to organise in the workplace and campaign on vital issues affecting workers' living and working conditions.
While members are free to decide how to vote on June 12, Mr O'Connor said the National Executive Council's decision was clear.
"Our basic position is that we're not going to support this, we're not going to support a watered down version of the treaty unless the same provisions apply in relation to workers here as will apply to workers all over Europe," he said.
However, in what has been interpreted as a conditional 'Yes' for the treaty, Mr O'Connor signalled that if the Government enters into commitments on implementing the Charter of Fundamental Rights over the next two weeks, the union would "respond accordingly".
This follows last week's decision of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) to support the 'Yes' side.