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Disrespect for social rights is a worrying European trend

Internationellt The EU is giving priority to short-term economic considerations over the respect of fundamental rights.

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Publicerad i European Voice 5 april 2013

The EU is giving priority to short-term economic considerations over the respect of fundamental rights.

European Voice has over the years returned frequently to the Laval case, in which Latvian builders were brought into Sweden to work on conditions that undermine Swedish labour legislation. We are writing to highlight the latest developments.

Two weeks ago, a committee of the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) – the committee of experts on the application of conventions and recommendations – found that Swedish legislation adopted as a result of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on the Laval case was in violation of fundamental trade-union rights. This report is the latest in a series of conclusions that establish, in unambiguous terms, that European Union law is incompatible with the ILO’s conventions on fundamental rights and principles, conventions that have been ratified by all of the EU’s member states.

In the Swedish case, the ILO observed with concern that as a result of ECJ case law, Swedish legislation restricts the fundamental right to take industrial action to the minimum standards listed in the posting-of-workers directive. Similar concerns were raised in the Balpa case (2010) where the ILO condemned in no uncertain terms the impact of the Viking ECJ case law on the exercise of the right to strike in the UK. (In the Viking case, a Finnish ship was re-registered as an Estonian ship and re-staffed with Estonian sailors to take advantage of Estonia’s lower wages and looser labour laws.)

In November 2011, the ILO’s committee on freedom of association strongly criticised austerity measures taken in Greece over the past few years. The ILO found a number of repeated and extensive breaches of key principles on collective bargaining and an important deficit of social dialogue. The committee further highlighted the need for ILO assistance to restore social dialogue in Greece.

These cases cannot be considered as isolated national situations; they reflect a clear and worrying European trend. The EU is giving priority to short-term economic considerations over the respect of fundamental rights and is compelling its member states to contradict their international legal obligations.

But the repeated warnings sent by the ILO seem to fall on deaf ears. The EU’s inaction sends a worrying message about its credibility in the promotion of fundamental rights.

More than five years after ECJ rulings that significantly undermined the right to strike and the fight against social dumping and labour exploitation, European legislators have to act. The austerity measures imposed by the troïka of international creditors – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – are attacking collective bargaining and wages.

We therefore demand a social progress protocol to the EU treaties that would restore the correct hierarchy of norms between economic freedoms and basic social rights.

Bernadette Ségol,
Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson
Eva Nordmark