ECJ judgement on Viking case recognises fundamental right to collective action as integral part of EU Community law

Brussels, 11/12/2007

In a first response on today’s judgement in the Viking case, the ETUC welcomes the ECJ’s clear recognition of the right to take collective action as guaranteed by international and Community law, which in principle justifies a restriction of the freedom of establishment guaranteed by the Treaty. The ECJ also confirmed explicitly that the EU is not only about an internal market and the abolition of obstacles to free movement of business and labour, but also a Community with a policy in the social sphere, and that market freedoms must be balanced by social policy objectives, such as the improvement of living and working conditions and social dialogue.

However, the ETUC is of the opinion that the Judgement may not sufficiently protect the rights of organised labour in a modern transnational and increasingly global economy.
Said ETUC General Secretary John Monks: “This judgement clearly gives protection to unions acting at local and national level when challenging the freedom of establishment of companies. However, it is less clear about transnational trade union rights. In the run up to the solemn proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the adoption of the Reform Treaty, we would have welcomed a more clear and unambiguous recognition of the rights of unions to maintain and defend workers’ rights and equal treatment and to cooperate cross border, to counterbalance the power of organized business that is increasingly going global.”

Although the ETUC welcomes the fact that it is up to national courts to decide whether or not collective actions are proportional and justified, the ‘guidance’ given by the ECJ to national courts on how to deal with this is quite rigid and may cause problems when applied throughout Europe to different industrial relations systems.