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ISSUE 51 page 6

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New French union law does not break EU charter says court

France’s highest court has ruled that a law passed in 2008 which reformed the rules on trade union representativeness and collective bargaining does not conflict with ILO, Council of Europe and EU conventions and charters. We examine its history and contents now that unions have to live with it.


As part of their effort to reform the previous Socialist  government’s 35-hour maximum working week, President Sarkozy’s administration included changes to the system of industrial democracy. After consultations had led to a ‘common position’ among the two main trade union confederations and employers’ organisations, the proposals took away the automatic right of the five largest union groups to negotiate with all companies. Instead they now needed to obtain at least ten per cent of the votes in statutory workplace elections. The new law also laid down who their delegates will be to the works council, giving priority to individuals who won more than 10%. The measure validated collective agreements only if signed by unions that commanded more than 30% of the ballot, sought to improve the transparency of union accounts and emphasised company-level bargaining, especially in relation to overtime.
However the Force Ouvrière (FO) confederation, which had not been party to the union/employer ‘common position’ challenged the legislation in the courts alleging that the 10% rule broke international law. They cited, among others, International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions on collective bargaining and worker representation and the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. After a local court had upheld FO’s objections the Cour de Cassation was asked for a definitive ruling. The higher court has agreed that the right of unions to negotiate with employers is an essential part of the right to protection of their members but has also affirmed that governments can restrict this to representative organisations. The 10% rule does not weaken union reps., according to the court as it increases the ability of employees to determine who is best at defending their interests. The CFDT confederation, one of the signatories of the ‘common position’, agreed, saying that a major step towards ‘genuine democracy' in industrial relations had been taken. The fact that workers will now effectively elect union reps. directly will give them greater strength and legitimacy, they added.

Recent rulings from the European Courts

EasyJet fined by French court
Ossi’ slur does not count as discrimination
UK-based airline EasyJet has been fined €150,000 by a French court and ordered to pay €1.4 million damages to the insurance authorities and €40,000 to trade unions. An inspection in 2006 found that 170 staff had been employed on British employment contracts since 2003. Despite appeals by both EasyJet and Ryanair the French government decree that insisted all flight crew based in the country must be covered by French employment law was upheld in 2007. EasyJet argued that flight personnel worked on UK contracts because the company is based there, and the employees' place of work is on an aeroplane, rather than in a specific country.
A Stuttgart court has ruled that there was no discrimination against an unsuccessful candidate for a job who had her application returned to her with the word ‘Ossi’ written on it. The term is a derogatory expression for people originally from the former East Germany. A local door and window manufacturer admitted that it had made an ‘embarrassing oversight’ but refused to settle the complainant’s €5,000 claim stating that it employed many former East Germans. The Equal Treatment law of 2006 forbids discrimination on the grounds of ‘race or ethnic origin’ as opposed to ‘homeland and origin’ as in Germany’s constitution.
Austrian employer wrong on three counts
The local government of Tyrol in Austria must change rules that deprived fixed-term and casual workers of employment rights, took away accumulated holiday entitlement from employees switching from full to part-time and cancelled out leave earned in the year before the birth of a child for parents taking two years’ parental leave. The European Court of Justice backed up the contention of the works council at Tyrol’s hospitals that EU law had been broken.

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