SP: Government must not permit human rights abuses

26 February 2015

SP: Government must not permit human rights abuses

The Court of Justice in The Hague last week ruled that the European Patents Organisation (EPO) is in conflict with important European fundamental rights, such as the right to strike. Security and Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten is, however, refusing to give effect to the judgment, on the grounds that the EPO – not an EU institution, but one with thirty-eight member states, including all EU countries - is an independent organisation and therefore enjoys immunity. SP Member of Parliament Michiel van Nispen finds this reasoning absurd, he says. ‘The minister is thus approving the silencing of trade unions and the fact that workers can’t in the end enforce their rights,’ he points out. ‘Independent organisations should not be hampered in their functioning, but that doesn’t mean that they have carte blanche to transgress human rights and ignore judicial rulings.’

The EPO has for a number of years been the site of conflict between management and workers. The organisation’s director refuses to recognise trade unions and even seeks to ensure that there is no contact between unions and EPO employees. The Court of Justice has ruled that this represents a limitation on the right to strike and in doing so transgresses fundamental principles of an open democracy and the democratic rule of law. SP Member of Parliament and labour specialist Paul Ulenbelt agrees, complaining that ‘this problem isn’t new. In the past, I’ve worked with the main Dutch trade union federation, the FNV, to hold the EPO liable for an occupational disease. The action failed because of their immunity. Social Affairs and Employment Minister Lodewijk Asscher should be persuading the European Union to limit the immunity of independent organisations to what this exception was intended for.’

Van Nispen and Ulenbelt both insist that the immunity and inviolability enjoyed by independent organisations must not lead to human rights abuses. They have asked the two government ministers responsible respectively for Justice and Employment, Opstelten and Asscher, to explain how to ensure that the workforce can access their rights and unions are not outlawed.

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