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court of justice distinguishes kükükdeveci January 15, 2014

Posted by Bradley in : eu , trackback

In Association de médiation sociale v Union locale des syndicats CGT, the Court of Justice of the EU (Grand Chamber) has held that Article 27 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights cannot be invoked in a dispute between individuals in order to disapply a provision of national law implementing Directive 2002/14/EC which is incompatible with EU law.

The Directive established a general framework for informing and consulting employees (“employee is defined as “any person who, in the Member State concerned, is protected as an employee under national employment law and in accordance with national practice.”) Article 3(1) of the Directive limited the application of the Directive as follows:

This Directive shall apply, according to the choice made by Member States, to: (a) undertakings employing at least 50 employees in any one Member State, or (b) establishments employing at least 20 employees in any one Member State. Member States shall determine the method for calculating the thresholds of employees employed.

Article L. 1111-3 of the Code du Travail establishes rules for calculating the relevant number of employees for the purposes of the Directive. A dispute arose as to whether the Association de médiation sociale (AMS) was subject to the Directive’s requirements. The Court of Justice held that the French rules were incompatible with the Directive:

An interpretation of Directive 2002/14 according to which Article 3(1) thereof allows the Member States to exclude from the calculation of the staff numbers of the undertaking a specific category of workers on grounds such as those put forward by the French Government in the case in the main proceedings is incompatible with Article 11 of that directive, which requires Member States to take all necessary steps enabling them to guarantee the results imposed by Directive 2002/14, in that it implies that the States would be allowed to evade that obligation to reach a clear and precise result imposed by European Union law … it must therefore be concluded that Article 3(1) of Directive 2002/14 must be interpreted as precluding a national provision, such as Article L. 1111-3 of the Labour Code, under which workers with assisted contracts are excluded from the calculation of staff numbers in the undertaking when determining the legal thresholds for setting up bodies representing staff.

Article 3(1) of the Directive was capable of producing direct effects, but not between private parties (which AMS is, as “an association governed by private law, even if it has a social objective”). The Court then considered whether Kükükdeveci (where a national court was instructed to apply the general principle of non-discrimination on grounds of age, as given expression in a directive, disapplying contrary provisions of national law if necessary) might help. It didn’t. Art 27 of the Charter provides:

Workers or their representatives must, at the appropriate levels, be guaranteed information and consultation in good time in the cases and under the conditions provided for by Union law and national laws and practices

The Court said:

the facts of the case may be distinguished from those which gave rise to Kücükdeveci in so far as the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of age at issue in that case, laid down in Article 21(1) of the Charter, is sufficient in itself to confer on individuals an individual right which they may invoke as such.

The Court suggests that a damages remedy might be available in these circumstances – the usual next step, although I don’t know how useful it would in fact be in such a case. And there isn’t much in the judgment to allow us to know which general principles will merit Kükükdeveci treatment and which will not.

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