The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg yesterday said Britain had failed to implement correctly articles of two European laws relating to the rights of workers who are sacked or transferred from one employer to another.
While the Department of Employment insisted yesterday that 'there were no implications for UK legislation' in the statement, the Advocate General's opinion makes it very likely that the European Court will find against the Government when it rules on the issue later this year. Member states are bound by the findings of the European Court of Justice and must amend legislation if necessary.
Under EU law, workers, through their representatives, must retain similar rights if their jobs remain the same but their employer changes. Worker representatives must be consulted before a programme of mass redundancies.
The issue has arisen from the wave of privatisations in the 1980s, an example being when local authorities contract out cleaning work and the new contractor rehires the same cleaners, perhaps on lower wages, though they are doing exactly the same job.
The wording of the law defines workers' representatives as 'representatives provided for by the laws or practice of the member state'. The UK argues this does not amount to a compulsory obligation to recognise unions; the TUC argues to the contrary.
The unions say the Government can side-step the legal obligation to consult by declining to recognise unions, and believe yesterday's opinion strengthens their arguments for compulsory recognition. 'Once again British workers have been shown to be denied rights that are accepted in law in all other EU countries - we will be pressing the Government to act,' said the TUC general secretary, John Monks.
But the Department of Employment said this was not the thrust of the Advocate General's opinion and added: 'This statement implies no right to compensation, nor would any such right flow from such a decision by the court.'Reuse content