Court rules in favour of trade union action against East European labour
The European Court of Justice has ruled today that trade unions can in
principle take action to prevent employers from using cheaper workers from
EU countries with fewer labour rights. The ruling, regarding Finnish ferry
company Viking Line, states that such action must be intended purely to
protect jobs and existing employment conditions, not to prevent an employer
from being based wherever it likes, including member states with weaker
protection for workers.
Attempts by Viking Line to take on Estonian workers angered Finnish
employees who sought the aid of British-based International Transport
Workers' Federation. The federation called on its members not to negotiate
with the company at which point Viking Line lodged a court case.
The European Court of Justice has now ruled that industrial action is legal
"only if it pursues a legitimate aim such as the protection of workers" and
it has left the decision of legitimacy in this case up to the national
courts to decide.
Commenting on the ruling, Jean Lambert MEP, Member of the European
Parliament's Employment and Social Affairs Committee, said:
"The European Court of Justice has ruled that company trading rights cannot
simply ride rough-shod over workers rights and this is a principle that I
welcome. Companies will now have to think twice before opting for cheaper
labour at the expense of existing employees.
"Although the judgement is not as conclusive as we'd like, as it has thrown
the decision in this case back to national courts, it still suggests that
the rights of establishment and of free movement don't necessarily take
precedent over the rights of workers. However, there is now a question over
what constitutes a legitimate aim. Would strike action for the public good,
for instance regarding an environmental concern, be a legitimate aim?
"All European countries and companies should be striving to meet the highest
possible employment standards. This ruling has confirmed that despite
allowing free movement in the European Union, competition between countries
should not apply to labour standards."
For more information please contact:
Georgina Bloomfield, Media Officer
Tel: 020 7407 6280
Note to Editors
Jean Lambert: In October 2005 Jean was named MEP 2005 for Justice and Human
Rights. Jean was first elected Green Party Member of the European
Parliament for London in the 1999 European elections and was re-elected in
2004. She is one of nine MEPs representing London and one of two UK Green
representatives in the European Parliament.