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Reviving the 'country of origin' controversy?
27
Feb '08
Europe's trade unions have demanded a legal boost to their right to strike following recent EU court judgements with implications for workers rights across the Union.

They warn that if their fears that free market principles will take priority over Europe's social protection laws are not allayed then ratification of the EU's Lisbon Treaty – currently ongoing across the bloc - may be jeopardised.

"We have been told that our right to strike is fundamental but not as fundamental as free movement of services," John Monks, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) chief, told a Brussels meeting on Tuesday (26 February).

Organised by the European Parliament's social affairs committee, the discussion attended by MEPs, legal experts, employers' and trade unions' representatives focused on the implications of two cases involving the Nordic system of collective bargaining where employers and employees agree wages and social security conditions each year.

In the so-called Vaxholm case, the Luxembourg-based court ruled that Swedish unions had breached EU law when they forced a Latvian company to observe local pay deals, while the verdict on the Viking case suggested unions cannot strike against firms moving from one member state to another due to lower wages.

"We think these cases are of massive importance to the trade union movement," said Mr Monks.

He argued that the Vaxholm judgement has effectively restricted the existing unions' right to strike by preventing them from "going beyond a minimum level" in pay and social contribution demands when bargaining with foreign employers.

Social progress clause:
The ETUC leader pointed out that while judges had referred to the EU's cherished principles of free movement of services and establishment, their rulings could damage the bloc's social policy achievements by legally introducing what he views as a "licence for social dumping."

He suggested that the EU should introduce a "social progress clause" in its treaties which would legally uplift the right of collective action by workers in the face of the free market principles applied in the 27-member bloc.

Irish Labour MEP Proinsias de Rossa warned that the issue will be seized by eurosceptics ahead of the planned referendum in Ireland on the EU treaty with trade union organisations in Ireland reluctant to endorse the document.

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