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European labour law

European labour law is the developing field of laws relating to rights of employment and partnership at work within the European Union and countries adhering to the European Convention on Human Rights.


  • Treaties 1
  • Human rights 2
  • Employment contracts 3
  • Free movement 4
  • Equality 5
  • Child care and working time 6
  • Health and safety 7
  • Pensions 8
  • Social security 9
  • Business restructuring 10
  • Unemployment 11
  • Workplace participation 12
  • Collective bargaining 13
  • See also 14
  • Notes 15
  • References 16
  • External links 17


The PACE Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (deriving from the Treaty of Lisbon) lists in article 2(1) the European Union's competence in the field of labour law. What is conspicuously not included is unjust dismissal of workers, and according to article 153(5) "pay, the right of association, the right to strike or the right to impose lock-outs". As it says, "the Union shall support and complement the activities of the Member States in the following fields:"

The objectives draw, according to TFEU article 151, inspiration from a number of other treaties and sources, which in turn draw inspiration from the Versailles Treaty.

Human rights

Employment contracts

  • Lawrie-Blum v Land Baden-Württemberg (1986) C-66/85, [17] 'the essential feature of an employment relationship … is that for a certain period of time a person performs services for and under the direction of another person in return for which he receives remuneration.'
  • Pfeiffer v Deutsches Rotes Kreuz (2005) C-397/01, "the worker must be regarded as the weaker party to the employment contract and it is therefore necessary to prevent the employer being in a position to disregard the intentions of the other party to the contract or to impose on that party a restriction of his rights without him having expressly given his consent in that regard."

Free movement

Articles 45-48 state that workers have the right to move freely and work anywhere in the EU, without discrimination on grounds of nationality, subject to exceptions to preserve public policy, security and health.

There is also an old Directive concerning posted workers which has recently become highly contentious given decisions by the ECJ in The Rosella and Laval.


The principle of equality regardless of status is a fundamental value in all European member states, and constitutes a core principle that pervades the objectives of every institution.

This is reflected in a number of TFEU provisions.

  • Article 8 (ex Article 3(2) TEC) "In all its activities, the Union shall aim to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality, between men and women."
  • Article 10, "In defining and implementing its policies and activities, the Union shall aim to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation."

Child care and working time

Health and safety


A number of Directives deal with minimum standards for protecting the pension promise of employers in the event of business trouble, and require minimum standards of funding.

Since the global financial crisis beginning in 2007, the EU acted to create a network of transnational financial regulators in an attempt to prevent the undercutting of standards by countries competing on low regulation. One of these is the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority, which replaced a committee known as the "Committee of European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Supervisors".

Social security

Business restructuring


US and EU unemployment rates, 1993-2009.

The European Union undertakes ad-hoc initiatives to combat unemployment, but only indirectly through better regulation. It does not have any specific fiscal stimulus programme, outside funds used for general regional development. It does, however, have a high level of employment as a key objective of the union, and its agencies monitor employment across the continent.

  • TFEU Article 9, "In defining and implementing its policies and activities, the Union shall take into account requirements linked to the promotion of a high level of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection, the fight against social exclusion, and a high level of education, training and protection of human health."
  • Articles 145-150, on coordinated strategies to promote employment
  • European Union Labour Force Survey
  • Eurostat

Workplace participation

In the context of business restructuring, the requirement to inform and consult the workforce is most pressing, and the obligation is found in two Directives.

There are two general Directives which allow for ongoing workplace participation.

Furthermore, in the European Company, the "Societas Europea", allows for employee participation on the board of directors.

Collective bargaining

Theoretically, only the European Court of Human Rights should have competence to decide issues related to collective bargaining and industrial action, as the European Union treaties do not confer competence on the EU to legislate on such issues. The ECHR's scope extends to collective bargaining given the right to freedom of association under article 11.

However, a series of decisions recently determined by the European Court of Justice suggest that where member state law allowing trade union action results in a restriction of one of the fundamental freedoms protected by the European Union Treaties, the ECJ will (controversially) intervene.

See also


  1. ^ 80/987/EEC


  • Catherine Barnard, EC Employment Law (3rd edn Oxford, OUP 2006)

External links

  • EU homepage on Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion
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