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A Human Rights Analysis of the Viking and Laval Judgments

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 October 2017


In 2007, Brian Bercusson observed that:

[T]he future of the trade union movement, but also of the EU, may depend on whether on judgment day the European Court of Justice decides that the EU legal order upholds the right of trade unions to take transnational collective action.

Previously, deference to domestic labour legislation did not translate into judicial recognition of a right to collective bargaining or a strike. There was only speculation that this should be the case, accompanied by significant opposition from the UK to such a prospect. Judgment day has since come and we have been told that ‘[t]he right to take collective action, including the right to strike, must … be recognised as a fundamental right which forms an integral part of the general principles of Community law’. Indeed, it also seems that such a right extends at least in theory to secondary and transnational action.

Research Article
Copyright © Centre for European Legal Studies, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge 2008

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1 Bercusson, B, ‘The Trade Union Movement and the European Union: Judgment Day’ (2007) 13 European Law Journal 279, 308CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Eg Case C-113/89, Rush Portuguesa [1990] ECR I-1417, para 18.

3 See Case C-179/90, Merci Convenzionali Porto di Genova SpA v Siderurgica Gabrielli SpA [1991] ECR I-5889.

4 Eg the Opinion of AG Jacobs in Case C-67/96, Albany International BV v Stichting Bedrijfsfonds Textielindustrie [1999] ECR I-5751 (hereinafter, ‘Albany International ‘), para 159. See also Jacobs, A, ‘Towards Community Action on Strike Law’ (1978) 15 CML Rev 133 Google Scholar; Betten, L, The Right to Strike in Community Law: The Incorporation of Fundamental Rights in the Legal Order of the European Communities (Amsterdam, North-Holland, 1985)Google Scholar; and Novitz, T, ‘Labour Rights as Human Rights: Implications for Employers’ Free Movement in an Enlarged European Union9 (2006–7) CYELS 357 Google Scholar.

5 See Written Observations of the UK in Case C-438/05, paras 10–20; and Bercusson, above n 1, 300.

6 Case C-438/05, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Finnish Seamen’s Union (FSU) v Viking Line, judgment of 11 December 2007, para 44; and Case C-341/05, Laval un Partneri v Svenska Byggnadsarbetareförbundet [2007] ECR I-11767, para 91.

7 Viking, above n 6, para 89.

8 Hepple, B, ‘Social Values and European Law’ (1995) 48 Current Legal Problems 39, 46CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 See Deakin, S, ‘Social Rights in a Globalized Economy’ in Alston, P (ed), Labour Rights as Human Rights (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005)Google Scholar; and Hepple, B, Labour Laws and Global Trade (Oxford, Hart, 2005) ch 10Google Scholar.

10 For discussion of early analyses of the rights of labour, see: Claeys, G, ‘The Origins of the Rights of Labor: Republicanism, Commerce and the Construction of Modern Social Theory in Britain, 1796–1805’ (1994) 66 The Journal of Modern History 249 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Vaughn, KI, ‘John Locke and the Labor Theory of Value’ (1978) 2(4) Journal of Libertarian Studies 311 Google Scholar; Steiner, H, ‘The Natural Right to the Means of Production’ (1977) 27 The Philosophical Quarterly 41 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Husami, ZI, ‘Marx on Distributive Justice’ (1978) 8 Philosophy and Public Affairs 27 Google Scholar.

11 Most frequently cited is Marshall, TH, Citizenship and Social Class (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1950)Google Scholar; see also more recently Fudge, J, ‘The New Discourse of Labour Rights: From Social to Fundamental Rights?’ (2007) 29 Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal 29 Google Scholar.

12 See, in this respect, I Berlin, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ (1958) in Berlin, I, Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1969)Google Scholar.

13 Marshall, above n 11, 34; also Hare, I, ‘Social Rights and Fundamental Human Rights’ in Hepple, B (ed), Social and Labour Rights in a Global Context (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002)Google Scholar.

14 See Evans, M and Murray, R (eds), The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights: The System in Practice 1986–2006 2nd edn (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 See, eg ILO, Freedom of Association: Digest of Decisions of the Freedom of Association Committee of the ILO Governing Body 5th rev edn (Geneva, ILO, 2006) paras 495 & 521Google Scholar.

16 Human Rights Committee, 28th Session, Communication No R.26/118/1982, JB et al v Canada, 28th Session.

17 Syndicat national de la police belge v Belgium (App no 4464/70) (1975) Series A no 19, para 38; and Wilson, National Union of Journalists v United Kingdom (App nos 30668/96, 30671/96 and 30678/96) (2002) 35 EHRR 20, para 44.

18 Viking, above n 6, para 86.

19 Novitz, T, ‘Are Social Rights Necessarily Collective Rights?—A Critical Analysis of the Collective Complaints Protocol to the European Social Charter’ [2002] 1 European Human Rights Law Review 50 Google Scholar; and Churchill, R and Khaliq, U, ‘The Collective Complaints System of the European Social Charter: An Effective Mechanism for Ensuring Compliance with Economic and Social Rights?’ (2004) 15 European Journal of International Law 417 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 See Vandenhole, W, ‘Completing the UN Complaint Mechanisms For Human Rights Violations Step by Step: Towards A Complaints Procedure Complementing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (2003) 21(3) Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights 423 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

21 See Ben-Israel, R, ‘Is the Right to Strike a Collective Human Right?’ (1981) 11 Israel Yearbook of Human Rights 195 Google Scholar, who bases her view of the right to strike as fundamentally collective in nature since individual withdrawal of labour has little persuasive force. CfLeader, S, Freedom of Association, A Study in Labour Law and Political Theory (New Haven, Conn/London, Yale University Press, 1992) 200 Google Scholar, who conceives of freedom of association as the freedom of persons ‘to do collectively what they are allowed to do individually’. For a critique of these arguments, see Novitz, T, International and European Protection of the Right to Strike (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2003) Pt ICrossRefGoogle Scholar.

22 See Wedderburn, LordLabour Law 2008: 40 Years On’ (2007) 36 Industrial Law Journal 397 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 See, for elaboration of this argument in respect of the European Court of Human Rights, Mantouvalou, V, ‘Is There a Human Right not to Be a Trade Union Member?’ in Fenwick, C and Novitz, T (eds), Human Rights at Work: Legal and Regulatory Perspectives (Oxford, Hart, forthcoming 2009) and available as part of the LSE Working Paper Series, Working Paper No 8/2007 at < journalbrowse&journal_id=993131> accessed 26 August 2008Google Scholar; and also, by the same author, ‘Servitude and Forced Labour in the 21st Century: The Human Rights of Domestic Workers’ (2006) 35 Industrial Law Journal 395; and ‘Work and Private Life: Sidabras and Dziautas v Lithuania ‘ (2005) 30 European Law Review 573.

24 J McCartin, ‘Democratizing the Demand for Workers’ Rights: Toward a Re-framing of Labor’s Argument’ (Winter 2005) Dissent, cited by L Compa, ‘USA’ in Part I of Fenwick and Novitz, above n 23.

25 Kenner, J, ‘Economic and Social Rights in the EU Legal Order: The Mirage of Indivisibility’ in Hervey, T and Kenner, J (eds), Economic and Social Rights under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights—A Legal Perspective (Oxford, Hart, 2003) 15 Google Scholar.

26 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights 2000 (EUCFR) Art 28.

27 EUCFR Art 33 provides that ‘the family shall enjoy legal, economic and social protection’.

28 EUCFR Art 30 provides for every worker to have ‘protection against unjustified dismissal’.

29 Ibid. See also Arts 27, 31 and 32.

30 EUCFR Arts 29 & 33–8.

31 Case C-540/03, Parliament v Council [2006] ECR I-5769, para 38.

32 See the Lisbon Reform Treaty, Protocol on the Application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union to Poland and to the United Kingdom, which states, inter alia, ‘for the avoidance of doubt, nothing in Title IV—Solidarity of the Charter creates justiciable rights applicable to Poland and the United Kingdom except in so far as Poland and the United Kingdom has provided for such rights in its national law’.

33 CCFSRW 1989 Art 11 and EUCFR 2000 Art 12.

34 CCFRSW 1989 Arts 12–14 and EUCFR 2000 Art 28.

35 See Ryan, B, ‘Pay, Trade Union Rights and Community Law’ (1997) 13 International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations 305 Google Scholar.

36 See the ‘Monti Regulation’, ie Council Regulation (EC) 2679/98 on the functioning of the internal market in relation to the free movement of goods among the Member States, [1998] OJ L337/8, Art 2.

37 See as to the obligation of foreign service providers exercising their freedom of establishment, Directive 96/71/EC concerning the posting of workers in the framework of the provi sion of services [1997] OJ L18/1, especially Art 3. See also the Services Directive, ie Directive 2006/123/EC on services in the internal market, OJ L376/36, Art 1(7).

38 See Syrpis, P, EU Intervention in Domestic Labour Law (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007) 123 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 Case C-36/02, Omega Spielhallen und Automatenaufstellungs GmbH v Bundesstadt Bonn [2004] ECR I-9609; discussed in Bulterman, M and Kranenborg, H, ‘What if Rules on Free Movement and Human Rights Collide? About Laser Games and Human Dignity: The Omega Case’ (2006) 31 EL Rev 93 Google Scholar.

40 Case C-112/00, Eugen Schmidberger, Internationale Transporte und Planzüge v Austria [2003] ECR I-5659 (hereinafter, ‘Schmidberger’).

41 Case C-499/04, Werhof v Freeway Traffic Systems GmbH & Co KG [2006] IRLR 400.

42 Ibid, para 33: ‘Freedom of association, which also includes the right not to join an association or union (see, to that effect, Eur. Court of HR, Sigurjónsson v Iceland, judgment of 30 June 1993, Series A, No 264, § 35, and Gustafsson v Sweden, judgment of 25 April 1996, Reports of Judgments and Decisions, 1996-II, p. 637, § 45) is enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed in Rome on 4 November 1950 and is one of the fundamental rights which, in accordance with the Court’s settled case-law, are protected in the Community legal order (Case C-415/93 Bosman [1995] ECR I-4921, paragraph 79), as is restated in Article 6(2) EU (see Case C274/99 P Connolly v Commission [2001] ECR I-1611).’

43 Maduro, M Poiares, ‘Reforming the Market or the State? Article 30 and the European Constitution: Economic Freedom and Political Rights’ (1997) 3 European Law Journal 55, 72CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

44 Sørensen v Denmark and Rasmussen v Denmark (App nos 52562/99 and 52620/99) ECHR 11 January 2006.

45 Such action was found to be defensible by the European Court of Human Rights in 1996 in Gustafsson v Sweden (App no 15573/89) (1996) 2 EHRR 409, para 53, but this was by a narrow majority and that judgment could be regarded as specific to its facts.

46 Cf Albany International, above n 4, para 60.

47 Ibid.

48 Viking, above n 6, at para 52.

49 Ibid, paras 53–4.

50 Above n 6: Viking, para 44; and Laval para 91.

51 Schmidberger, above n 40, para 77; and Case C-36/02, Omega [2004] ECR I-9609, para 36. Cited in Viking, para 46; and Laval, para 94, both above n 6.

52 For a fuller discussion, see Van den Bogaert, S, ‘Horizontality: The Court Attacks?’ in Barnard, C and Scott, J (eds), The Law of the Single European Market: Unpacking the Premises (Oxford, Hart, 2002) 123 Google Scholar.

53 See, eg Case 311/85, Vlaamse Reisbureau’s [1987] ECR 3821, para 30.

54 Case C-281/98, Angonese [2000] ECR I-4139, para 34. The Court relied on an analogy with its interpretation of what is now Art 141 EC in the Defrenne case: Case 43/75, Defrenne v Sabena [1976] ECR 455, para 31.

55 Case C-341/05, Laval, Opinion of May 2007, para 158.

56 Laval, above n 6, para 98. The Court also cites Case 36/74, Walrave and Koch [1974] ECR 1405, paras 17–18; Case C-415/93, Bosman [1995] ECR I-4921, at paras 83–4; and Case C-309/99, Wouters [2002] ECR I-1577, para 120.

57 Laval, above n 6, para 99.

58 Ibid, para 100.

59 Cf Case 8/74, Procureur du Roi v Dassonville [1974] ECR 837, para 5.

60 Viking, above n 6, para 65.

61 Ibid, para 62.

62 Case C-438/05, Viking, Opinion of 23 May 2007, paras 38–40.

63 Schmidberger, above n 40, para 65.

64 Ibid, para 67.

65 Ibid, para 80.

66 Ibid, para 86.

67 Viking Line ABP v International Transport Workers’ Federation [2005] EWHC 1222 (QB), paras 118–19.

68 Viking Opinion, above n 62, para 65.

69 Ibid, para 71.

70 Ibid, para 77.

71 See Case 279/80, Webb [1981] ECR 3305, para 17; and Joined Cases 62 & 63/81, Seco v EVI [1982] ECR 223, para 14. Cf Case C-415/93, Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association v Bosman [1995] ECR I-4921, paras 79 and 80; and Werhof, above n 41.

72 Written Observations on Behalf of the ITF in Case C-438/05, paras 1.6 and 6.106; and Written Observations on Behalf of the FSU, para 3.22. See also Viking, para 76; and Laval, para 102, both above n 6.

73 Laval, above n 6, para 107.

74 Ibid, para 110.

75 Ibid, paras 64–88.

76 Ibid, para 80.

77 Joined Cases C-396 & 376/96, Arblade [1999] ECR I-8435, para 43.

78 See Ewing, KD, ‘Trade Union Recognition—A Framework for Discussion’ (1990) 19 Industrial law Journal 209 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Wedderburn, Lord, ‘Collective Bargaining or Legal Enactment: The 1999 Act and Union Recognition’ (2000) 29 Industrial Law Journal 1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

79 Viking, above n 6, para 81.

80 Ibid, para 19.

81 Ibid, para 18.

82 Ibid, para 82.

83 For discussion of controversy over this issue, see Germanotta, P and Novitz, T, ‘Globalisation and the Right to Strike: The Case for European-Level Protection of Secondary Action’ (2002) 18 International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations 67 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

84 Viking, above n 6, para 89.

85 See A Couper, ‘Historical Perspectives on Seafarers and the Law’; and Churchill, R, Fitzpatrick, D and Khaliq, U, ‘Seafarers’ Rights at the National Level’ in Fitzpatrick, D and Anderson, M (eds), Seafarers’ Rights (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005)Google Scholar.

86 As reported at <> accessed 26 August 2008.

87 ILO, above n 15, para 526.

88 Ibid, para 527.

89 Viking, above n 6, para 86.

90 Ibid, para 86.

91 ILO, above n 15, para 522.

92 Viking, above n 6, para 87.

93 Schmidberger, above n 40, paras 86–9.

94 Viking, above n 6, para 16.

95 Bercusson, above n 1, 304.

96 Above n 67.

97 Wedderburn, above n 22, 422.

98 Above n 6: Viking, para 79; and Laval, para 105.

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