Yesterday, on February 10 2015, the European Parliament’s plenary met in Strasbourg to discuss, in the presence of and with input from Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for employment, social affairs, skills and labour mobility, on the topic ‘Initiatives in the framework of the International Labour Organization debate on the right to strike’. The debate circled around how to overcome the paralysis of the ILO’s internal supervision system of labour standards – the ‘Conference Committee on the Application of Standards’, a tripartite body consisting of an Employers’ Group, a Workers’ Group, and a Government Group which is to scrutinise the application of the ILO conventions in the ILO Member States – that has been ongoing since summer 2012 when the Employers’ Group announced that it does not consider that aspects relating to the right to strike can be scrutinised because there is in fact no explicit legal basis for it in the ILO’s Conventions (and particularly not in the ILO Convention 87 on ‘Freedom of association and protection of the right to organise’).
Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for employment, social affairs, skills and labour mobility, began her intervention by a general remark about the EU-ILO relations, saying that both parties have “long record of good cooperation”, with the EU always having promoted the ILO’s core conventions and having relied in the ILO’s supervision of labour standards as set out in the ILO’s Convention 87 on ‘Freedom of association and protection of the right to organise’, too. She said that she is in this context “concerned” that, since summer 2012, the ILO’s Conference Committee on the Application of Standards is being paralysed because especially the Employers’ group and the Workers’ Group “disagree on whether the right to strike is provided under the ILO Convention 87”.
She went on to note that the right to collective bargaining and action is a fundamental right in the EU, enshrined in article 28 of the EU’s Charter on Fundamental Rights. However, she added that the EU is only an observer at the ILO and that the European Commission can therefore not intervene on the substance of the discussion at hand, with this being the competence of the ILO full members (member countries). Nevertheless, she said, the European Commission is “ready to support all players” by retrieving information on the right to strike in the EU and by facilitating a dialogue between the EU Member States (which are all full ILO members individually) so that these can speak with a united voice within the ILO. She concluded by saying that she has also already met with the ILO Secretary-General, Guy Ryder, to discuss the problem at hand. She expressed hopes that a solution will be found at an ILO tripartite meeting on February 23-25 but declared that if no agreement can be achieved during that meeting, then the case may need to be brought for resolution to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.
Laura Agea said that citizens’ rights should always be a priority over corporate and financial interests and that she regrets that the former have in recent years been increasingly taken over by the latter. She stressed that the right to strike should be “sacrosanct” and that she hopes that “the rights that we have gained and that were left to us by predecessors” will no longer be subject to confrontation.