Polish judge refuses recognition of foreign collective labour agreements

14 May 2008

Polish judge refuses recognition of foreign collective labour agreements

Brussels – The building firm Gal-Met was found to have paid a Polish worker employed in Denmark less than the rate agreed under the collective labour agreement generally held to prevail for his trade in that sector. With the support of both the trades union and the Danish courts, the firm employing the worker was obliged to make up the difference, a total of €11,000. The firm, however, refused to let the matter lie, and thanks to a legal pretext employed by a Polish judge, saw the unfortunate worker forced to repay the money.

No answer

On 11th March SP Member of Parliament and employment spokesman Paul Ulenbelt grilled Employment Minister Piet Hein Donner as to whether the Polish courts could undermine Dutch collective labour agreements in just the same way. These agreements, known as CAOs, which on the basis of annual tripartite negotiations involving government, employers and unions fix wages and conditions sector by sector and trade by trade, are generally regarded as legally binding. This status has, however, been increasingly called into question by recent European Court of Justice interpretations of European Union law. The minister's reply was hardly reassuring. He did not, he said, rule this out, although for the moment he had no indications that this would be the case. In fact, Donner turned out to be quite unable to give the SP MP's question a satisfactory answer, having himself been unable to obtain an explanation from the Polish authorities as to why their judge had arrived at such a ruling.

Collective labour agreement neatly sidestepped

The minister's unsatisfactory response convinced SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer that it was time to step up to the plate. Demanding clarification from the European Commission, he wants also to see the EU's unelected executive body taking steps to ensure that all workers receive the rate for the job, the wage guaranteed by collective labour agreements or their equivalents. “Any worker employed at a lower rate will force regularly-paid workers out of the market,” Meijer notes. “That’s what is known here in Brussels as ‘social dumping’.” Collective labour agreements, long respected in most western European countries, must be enforced, and the European Commission, the SP Euro-MP insists, must not be allowed, under the guise of ‘liberalisation’, to give the green light to judges seeking to render them redundant.

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