The case addresses whether a company can deprive workers of the basic right to collective action, by formally relocating its assets in a country where salaries and benefits are lower.
The European Commission must submit its views on the case to the ECJ before the end of April. The ETUC has written to Commission President José Manuel Barroso calling for a carefully “balanced approach” that reflects its obligation to promote social dialogue and the basic social rights laid down in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
In 2003, the Finnish Viking shipping line decided that it could gain a competitive advantage by re-flagging its passenger and cargo ferry Rosella, operating between Helsinki and Tallinn in the Baltic Sea, as an Estonian vessel, and replacing the crew with lower-paid seafarers. Dissatisfied with how the situation was resolved in Finland, Viking subsequently went to court in England seeking an injunction to prevent the Finnish Seamen's Union (FSU) taking industrial action at some time in the future in order to protect its member's jobs. Viking also sought to prevent the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) in the future from calling on its affiliate members to show solidarity to the FSU. Viking was able to bring its action in the English court only because the ITF has its Secretariat in London.
“This case represents a mirror image of the Laval (or Vaxholm) case in Sweden, which attracted a lot of public attention and concern,” said ETUC General Secretary John Monks. “The potential legal, political and social repercussions of these cases go far beyond the Finnish and Swedish social models and will affect labour relations throughout Europe.”
The stated aim of the employers in these cases is to undermine successful social models and shift the balance of power between the social partners in countries where trade unions have a recognised role in defending workers' interests. The right to collective action lies at the heart of the Nordic social model, a model that is shared by some of the most competitive economies in the world. A finding in favour of the employers would have a damaging impact in parallel circumstances in Germany, France and many other EU Member States.
The ETUC is not opposed to the development of the internal market, or the free movement of goods, capital, services and workers. Nor does it promote protectionism. On the contrary, it seeks a level playing field between Member States, based on fair treatment and upward harmonisation of workers' rights and conditions.
The Commission's submission to the ECJ and the outcome of this case, is of great political importance to the future direction of the EU and to trade union and public support for Europe.
As to the right to collective action, it is a legitimate expectation that also the Commission would respect the international commitments of all the Member States, notably to the International Labour Organisation (ILO)' s core Conventions. They bind also the Member States of the EU.
Full background on the case is available on the ETUC website: http://www.etuc.org/a/1896
Viking case will be a cruciaI test of Europe's commitment to workers' rights