The Blair government has intervened in a European Court of Justice (EJC) test case to insist that the right to strike is not a fundamental right.
The intervention comes weeks before the EJC hearing of an appeal against a British Appeal Court ruling revoking a strike ban granted to Finland’s Viking Line.
This arose in a dispute over the company’s attempt to relocate a loss-making ferry to Estonia to take advantage of 60 per cent lower wage costs.
When the move to reflag the liner in Estonia was announced in 2004, the Finnish Seamen’s Union (FSU) objected to the proposal, fearing that it would lead to a worsening of crews’ pay and working conditions.
It called for a union blockade of Viking Line with the support of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Viking crews took strike action.
The FSU based its right to take collective action on the fact that such a move was a guaranteed constitutional right under Finnish law.
However, Viking Line challenged the legality of this action, and brought a case against both the ITF and the FSU, choosing to take its proceedings to the UK, where the ITF headquarters are based.
The UK High Court granted an injunction against further strike action.
In its decision, it concluded that the company’s right to freedom of movement overrides the existing rights of workers to take collective action, even where these are guaranteed under the country’s constitution.
But the UK Court of Appeal overruled the High Court’s decision, saying the European Court of Justice had to decide as it raised principles and questions involving European law.
Fourteen other EU countries have made submissions to the ECJ for the hearing on January 10th.
Only the UK government’s submission states that collective action is not a fundamental right and that rights guaranteeing free movement of goods and capital and labour within the EU are more important.