The leader of the Labour Party has accused Fianna Fáil of doing a U-turn on the issue of reintroducing work permits for migrant workers from eastern European accession states.

Pat Rabbitte said that compared to their original criticism of his remarks, Government TDs were now trying to beat each other down to support him.

He said that in those circumstances the Social Partners negotiating a new Partnership Agreement were likely to find that it will be feasible to extract from the Government commitments on employment standards that should always have been implemented.

He said a poll in today's Irish Times showed growing unease and disquiet about job displacement, partly figured by the Irish Ferries and Gama controversies.

However, he said he was gratified that people can draw a distinction between that unease and the fact that the majority of people welcome the arrival of migrant workers.

Voters back work permits: poll

The survey in today's Irish Times suggests that almost 80% of voters want a system of work permits to be established for citizens from the ten new European Union member states coming to Ireland.

According to the TNS/mrbi poll, only 17% of those surveyed believed the workers should continue to be allowed to come here without restriction.

Restrictions on workers from the accession states were backed by supporters of all parties in about the same proportion with the exception of PD voters, who were twice as supportive of the existing regime.

When the EU enlarged to a 25-member bloc in May 2004, Ireland was one of the few existing member states to allow its citizens to live and work here without restriction.