In June 2017 the European Commission – egged on by the airline companies – issued an official communication and an accompanying staff working document calling for member states to implement restrictions on the right to strike in air traffic control.
These included giving 14 days’ notice of industrial action, and requiring anyone taking part in a strike to give 72 hours’ individual notice to an employer.
The European Trade Union Confederation went ballistic. “The right to strike is a fundamental right guaranteed by European and international law,” said ETUC leader Esther Lynch. “…The European Commission is making a serious error in proposing this restriction of workers’ rights,” she continued. And the ETUC wrote a formal letter of protest to the Commission.
Now, the ETUC is not a Eurosceptic body. It does not call on workers to campaign against membership of the European Union. But its letter should be compulsory reading for anyone who reckons that the EU is a bastion of workers’ rights.
It accuses the Commission of “always coming up with detailed recommendations like this only to limit and dismantle social rights (like right to strike, collective bargaining, protection in labour market, adequacy of pensions, etc.), and never to promote and reinforce the very same rights.”
Meanwhile, the Air Traffic Controllers European Unions Confederation accused the Commission of “acting as a mirror” for the airline employers and said the employers’ recommendations had simply been “copy-pasted”. Which, of course, is the EU in a nutshell.
When the Commission ignored the ETUC’s letter, the European Transport Workers’ Federation, along with the air traffic controllers’ federation, complained to the European Ombudsman that the Commission was overstepping its powers.
The European Ombudsman ruled entirely in favour of the Commission, accepting its hypocritical claim that it was not trying to restrict the right to strike (which is beyond its competence) but simply urging member states to.
Moreover, said the Ombudsman, the communication and the staff working document were not legally binding, so the Commission hadn’t exceeded its power. And in any case, the right to strike, though fundamental, was not “absolute”.
• Related article: How the EU attacks the right to strike