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Democrat September-October 2013 (Number 137)

EU attacks worker's rights

Report by Brian Denny

EU courts have ruled that trade union collective agreements that are incorporated into the contracts of employees should not be protected during a transfer.

The contracts of Parkwood Leisure employees had stated that their wages should rise "from time to time" according to collective bargaining agreements, but the Court ruled that such "dynamic" agreements do not need to be adhered to after a transfer has taken place.

The European Court of Justice has 28 Judges
and is situated in Luxembourg

However, the collectively-agreed pay rate of workers at the time of their transfer continues to be protected under TUPE regulations.

The decision means the ECJ has shifted the traditional interpretation of TUPE as a set of legislation to protect workers, to concentrate on the Rights of Establishment (i.e. employers) instead.

In a statement, the Court said: "The transferee's contractual freedom is seriously reduced to the point that such a limitation is liable to adversely affect the very essence of its freedom to conduct a business".

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said that collective bargaining rights were being hollowed out by EU diktat and EU court rulings which encourage social dumping and severely weakens trade union powers to defend workers.

"ECJ decisions in the Viking, Laval, Ruffert and Luxemburg ECJ cases take us back over 100 years to the Taff Vale judgment when any trade union activity was perceived by the bosses to be 'in restraint of trade.

"Global companies operating in EU states are free under EU law to tender for procurement building and service contracts in Britain and hire cheaper labour from abroad," he said.

Trade union rights lawyer John Hendy QC also warned that the EU had launched a major attack on the concept of national collective bargaining agreements between trade unions and employers.

"Under EU treaties and EU court judgements, big business rights to make money override the human rights of working people to defend themselves," he said.

He said that EU structures were undermining workers' rights particularly in member states in the Eurozone suffering permanent austerity as part of 'bail-out' agreements such as Ireland, Portugal and Greece.

He described the moves as a 'gamechanger' as the myth of 'Social Europe' was being dropped completely in favour of the EU's 'fundamental four freedoms', the free movement of capital, goods, services and labour'.