THE Lisbon treaty does not directly affect the minimum wage of workers in Ireland, the Referendum Commission said yesterday.
Launching its information campaign, the commission set out six points which it says reflect the main changes to how the European Union would make decisions, if the treaty were ratified.
Chairman Mr Justice Frank Clarke said the commission would not act as a referee and get involved in claims by both sides on the treaty. Rather, it would intervene where fundamental issues arose.
“Over the coming weeks some issues may emerge which may require the commission to make a comment. Perhaps it’s fair to say some already have.”
With four weeks to polling day, issues are being argued by both the yes and no sides.
Anti-Lisbon group Coir claims basic pay could be lowered to €1.84, the average of rates across the accession states, if voters ratify the treaty. Coir say EU courts have agreed that wages set by wealthier states, like Ireland, can be set aside. This could be copperfastened by the treaty, Coir claim.
However, Mr Justice Clarke stated clearly that the treaty would not directly affect the minimum wage.
“It is absolutely clear, the question of whether a country has a minimum wage and, if it has it, what the amount of that minimum wage is, is not – to use the terms of the treaty – a ‘competence’ given to the EU.
He added: “The EU is given absolutely no competence in relation to the minimum wage.”
But he admitted the more “subtle argument” being made by the No side, that contract workers arriving here could work under their home country wage rules, was valid.
“There are certainly some cases from the court of justice that say in certain circumstances, it is possible for a worker, say for a Polish contractor working as it happens in Ireland, to be governed by Polish employment law rather than Irish employment law.”
The same could be said about an Irish person working in Poland, he stressed.
“That is true. But the fact is those European court decisions were made under the existing treaties, they’re again nothing to do with Lisbon.”
The commission said that guarantees secured by the Irish Government on the issues of neutrality and taxation, among other issues, were legally binding but the “clarifications” did not actually change the position of the treaty.
Mr Clarke conceded that the commission during the last vote was partly responsible for voters not being fully aware of issues.
Accusations by former MEP Patricia McKenna, among others, that the commission was not impartial, were also rejected.
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