ECJ rulings pose fundamental threat to union rights, says RMT
RMT: September 7 2008
ANTI-UNION decisions by the unaccountable European Court of Justice have undermined workers' rights even further than the Thatcher anti-union laws still on Britain's statute books and urgently need to reversed, transport union RMT says today.
As delegates gather for the Trades Union Congress in Brighton, RMT says that recent rulings by the ECJ add up to the most serious attack on union rights since the Taff Vale judgement more than a century ago.
The union will this week ask delegates to back its call for the TUC to step up the campaign against Britain's anti-union laws and to work for Europe-wide action with the aim of restoring the human right to strike enshrined in International Labour Organisation norms.
"The ECJ is an unaccountable and politically driven body which aims to extend the 'internal market' - that's privatisation to you and me - and its rulings effectively render the right to strike meaningless," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
"The Viking, Laval and Ruffert rulings have each undermined the ability of trade unions to defend their members against attacks on living standards, and the Luxembourg ruling even attacks the right of EU member states to set decent minimum employment standards.
"Together they mean that an employer's right to 'freedom of establishment' trumps the right to strike, and are more restrictive than even the Tory anti-union laws still in place in new-Labour Britain.
"These draconian judgments and EU rules on 'free movement', which are enshrined in the renamed EU constitution, the Lisbon Treaty, represent a fundamental attack on trade union rights.
"Unless we roll back these ECJ rulings we will be left defenceless against the EU's drive to liberalise markets and institutionalise social dumping.
"That means stepping up the campaign for a Trade Union Freedom Act and ensuring that any new UK Bill of Rights includes all ILO conventions, and it means working with unions across Europe to demand the reversal of the ECJ's anti-union rulings," Bob Crow said.
Notes to editors: The ECJ has taken upon itself the right to judge the legitimacy and the proportionality of a dispute and the effect on the employer:
In the Viking case the Finnish ferry company Viking Line attempted to reflag one of its ships to Estonia and replace Finnish seafarers with cheaper Estonian labour. When the Finnish workers decided to strike to stop this social dumping, Viking began legal proceedings and, after sitting on the case for three years, the ECJ ruled that the company's 'freedom of establishment' took precedence over the Finnish workers' right to strike.
The Vaxholm (or Laval) casebegan after Swedish trade unionists attempted to prevent Latvian firm Laval paying poverty wages to Latvian builders working in the Swedish town of Vaxholm. The ECJ ruled that the right to take action is superseded where an employer complains that the union is seeking terms and conditions in excess of the minimum provided by the Posted Workers Directive. It claimed that as Sweden has no minimum-wage legislation in place the industrial action was invalid.
In the Ruffert case the court ruled that a German public body was not entitled to include a clause in a public works contract that required contractors to pay foreign workers the same rates as those set down in collective agreements.
In the Luxembourg case the court ruled that Luxembourg must remove labour laws putting national and foreign workers on an equal footing with local employees.
In all these cases the ECJ asserts that EU rules on the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour give private firms protection against collective action by trade unions.