EU austerity and dismantling of collective bargaining ‘unlawful’

The European Union's austerity measures and the dismantling of collective bargaining in a number of countries is unlawful, according to a professor at the University of Bremen.

The European Union’s austerity measures and the dismantling of collective bargaining in a number of countries is unlawful, according to a report by professor Andreas Fischer-Lescano of the University of Bremen in Germany.

The report, drawn up for the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB), the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), claims that the European Commission and the European Central Bank (because of their involvement in the troika) are breaching the primary law of the EU because the Treaty Of Lisbon (which provides the constitutional basis of the European Union) also includes the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

EU countries which approve of the Memoranda Of Understanding in the Governing Council of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) are bound to Fundamental and Human Rights, argues Professor Fischer-Lescano, who also says the crisis does not render EU law inoperative.

On a national level this approach was objected to by constitutional courts, Fischer-Lescano says, citing Portugal as an example. The European Parliament has to take action.

“Across Europe, trade unions have fought long and hard against austerity, and demand a fundamental political change of course,” says Bernhard Achitz, general secretary of the Austrian Trade Union Federation:

“From drastic cuts in social spending, restrictions on basic trade union rights, such as the actual abolishment of collective agreements, intervention in minimum wages and much more than that, we have enough.”

In order to substantiate the trade union’s argument, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), ÖGB, and the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour (AK) commissioned the legal opinion:

“The results are very clear. The socially unjust and economic unreasonably austerity of the EU must come to an immediate termination. It is bad for the people, bad for Europe and it is also unlawful,” said Achitz.

The report strengthens the claim of European trade unions for a fundamental change of course and a European investment plan, such as the one recently proposed by the ETUC, says Achitz:

“Investment in the welfare state and social services must take the place of short-sighted austerity policies, as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights must no longer remain a paper tiger, it has to eventually be observed by the EU policy.

“Since the financial crisis started in 2008, member states have taken a number of measures to cut public spending and reduce budget deficits. These austerity measures have also targeted social rights and have led to a deregulation of national labour laws as well as the dismantling of collective bargaining systems”, says Veronica Nilson, Confederal Secretary of the ETUC.

“The situation is the worst in the programme countries where the troika has imposed far-reaching measures. They have imposed cuts in minimum wage, interfered with collective bargaining forcing collective bargaining to take place at company level.

“Professor Fischer-Lescano’s study strengthens our argument that we have to legally challenge the austerity measures. Trade unions have already had some success through the collective complaints procedure at the Council of Europe.”

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