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ISSUE 50 page 6

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Greek strike against ECJ pension ruling overtaken by events

A seemingly equitable ruling by the European Court of Justice which sought to equalise the pension rights of women and men led to a strike call in Greece. However the country’s wider troubles soon dwarfed it in importance.

Last year we reported (issue 47) on a decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against the current Civil and Military Pensions Code in Greece. Mothers were allowed to retire between five and ten years earlier than fathers while other women could finish work up to five years before other men. This provision was supposed to compensate women for the greater share of domestic and child care duties that they typically shouldered in families. However there was no option to remain in employment if desired and no extra pension payment to make up for the shorter qualifying period in work. Therefore women generally receive lower pensions than men. The ECJ took the view that pension payments formed part of pay in occupational schemes and therefore must be the same for all and that discriminatory provisions could not be justified as some men may undertake similar family duties. Nor did the court think that they amounted to positive action on behalf of female employment as they only affect women who leave the labour market.
After a ruling against a Member State the national government has to amend the offending law or regulation. It was no surprise, given the financial straits that Greece is currently in, that the Papandreou administration chose to increase the pensionable age for women rather than decrease it for men and proposed that all workers in the public sector should retire at 65. 140,000 female employees are now thought to have to work between 5 and 17 years longer. The ADEDY civil service union objected to this and stated that ‘it will have the effect of forcing tens of thousands of working women out of their jobs’ and also believed that  the court’s treatment of the statutory pension scheme as if it was an occupational one ‘will erode the character of public social insurance’. However a strike called for early February was mainly targetted at the government-imposed tax rises and pay cuts designed to balance the country’s books ahead of a possible loan from the EU to help Greece defend its economy against financial speculators.


Recent rulings from the European Court of Justice

BA holiday pay case referred to ECJ
Age and employment in Germany again
A row in a British company has now been referred to the European Court of Justice as successive national courts were unable to agree. UK pilots employed by British Airways are payed extra allowances based on flying time and time spent away from their base airport, however when they take a holiday only their basic salary is received. The pilots claimed that this practice infringed the EU Civil Aviation Directive which is based on the Working Time Directive. Having progressed through the national court system from an Employment Tribunal to the new ‘Supreme’ Court the case must now be settled at European level. The ECJ will have to decide to what extent the method of calculating holiday pay is layed down in EU law and how much Member States can vary this.
After two cases in which the ECJ found that German laws on age requirements in employment were justified (see our last issue), a third has been ruled as infringing the EU directive on discrimination in the workplace. A Ms Kücükdeveci worked at Swedex GmbH & Co. from the age of 18 but was given notice of dismissal when she was 28. In Germany length of notice varies according to length of service and after ten years in a company an employee is entitled to four months. However Swedex would only allow six weeks as they contended that none of the years worked before Ms Kücükdeveci was 25 counted under German legislation. The ECJ ruled out the argument of the German court that it was reasonable to expect more flexibility and mobility from young people since the law applied whatever the age of the sacked worker and did not affect those young people who had a longer education and began work later.

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