Rüffert Case - EU’s declaration of war on hard-won workers’ rights

People’s Movement
02.09.2009

On April 2008 the European Court of Justice delivered a ruling in the so-called Rüffert case. The case concerns a conflict between the German land of Lower Saxony and the construction firm Objekt und Bauregie GmbH.

In the state law of Lower Saxony concerning tenders for public contracts it is stated that companies and their sub- contractors must pay employees the salary fixed according to collective agreements.

This provision was incorporated in the contract between Lower Saxony and the firm, but it was broken when a Polish sub-contractor of the latter, PKZ, paid its 53 employees only 46.57 per cent of the fixed minimum salary. The court has determined that the EU rules concerning the free exchange of services prevent local authorities demanding that “posted” workers must be paid according to the current agreement in the area in question.

With the Rüffert judgement the EU court has rejected the principle that municipalities or other public authorities can demand that suppliers and sub-suppliers live up to current salary and working conditions in the geographical area in question.

It shows that EU single market rules cause problems for the rights of workers in the whole of the EU. The court’s ruling means that it is now impossible to prevent the unequal treatment of posted workers. If the December 2007 Laval/Vaxholm judgement against the right  to strike was a warning to all workers in the EU, the Rüffert judgement of April 2008 is an open declaration of war on hard-won workers’ rights. Trade unions should forcefully resist this race to the bottom and the emasculation of “social Europe” in the interests of the “single market.”

No matter what the trade unions’ attitude is to the Treaty of Lisbon, they must all
agree that support for it would be unacceptable as long as the right to oppose social
dumping is not secured.

The EU Prime Ministers and Presidents refused to add a Protocol to the Lisbon Treaty to set aside the effect of these court cases in EU law  which was called for in their aftermath by trade unionists across the EU.

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