European workers can strike against company relocation

European workers can go on strike to protest against an employer relocating to a different country, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in a key decision December 11. But they can only strike if the move would result in job losses or worse working conditions, and if there is no other way to protect their interests, the top court in the European Union added.

The case, which pits the Finnish Seamen’s Union (FSU) and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) against Finnish ferry company Viking Line, is seen as crucial to the development of the EU’s internal market and labour law. It hinges on the question of whether trade unions in countries with high wage levels can strike to stop employers relocating to EU states with much lower wage levels – a question which has sparked heated debate since 2004, when the EU expanded to take in 10 states where wages are far below the Western European average. The ECJ decided that the EU’s basic rules give companies the legal right to set up anywhere in the 27-member bloc, and that trade-union action to stop them doing so breaks those basic rules.

But it added that such trade-union action could nevertheless be legal “if it pursues a legitimate aim such as the protection of workers” and if the unions in question have exhausted all their other options first. The case dates back to 2003, when Viking Line announced that it wanted to re-flag its loss-making ferry “Rosella” in Estonia in order to lower its wage costs. Finland has one of the highest wage levels in Europe, while Estonia at that time had one of the lowest.

In protest at the move, the FSU threatened to strike unless Viking Line promised to keep all the Rosella’s crew and obey Finnish labour law even if it re-flagged the ferry in Estonia. The FSU also asked to the international association of transport trade unions, the ITF, to throw its weight into the fight. The ITF responded by ordering all 600 of its affiliated unions in 140 countries – including Estonia – not to deal with Viking Line. When Estonia joined the EU in 2004, Viking took the FSU and ITF to court in London, accusing them of blocking its right to base itself anywhere in the EU. The London court asked the ECJ for advice.

The ECJ ruled that the FSU’s action did “constitute a restriction on the freedom of establishment,” but left it to the London court to decide whether or not the FSU had nonetheless acted in a legal way by exhausting all its other options first. The ECJ is expected to rule on a similar case, in which Swedish unions blockaded a building site in Sweden on which low-paid Latvian workers were employed, this week. (source: New Europe magazine, 11 Dec. 2007)

The Viking case (ETUC)

1 Response to “European workers can strike against company relocation”

  1. 1 mehmet September 8, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Good Luck for Bel Karper Turkey and Armenians employees to get their rights …

    We learn to get labour right by unions and strikes from europeans and also french people but
    Unfortunately even Bel has more multinational experience and also well human resource policies, their managers in Turkey arent able to make happy their employees to up their trade marks in Turkey and Middle East Market .
    Because We Think that they havent any experience for that events,
    we see it from their cv unfortunately. That problem says us Human Resource
    Management is more and more important to build effective organizations for any firms to get happy both its customers and workers. Happy TEAM takes the global match easily as you know ..

    We want to see your help about seeing that event on your web sites .


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