Employment Law

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EMPLOYMENT LAW How the European Union influences employment law in the United Kingdom

How the European Union influences employment law in the United Kingdom

The European backcloth

In a journal which focuses on Law, Justice and Democracy in Europe it would be inappropriate not to treat the concept of the social dialogue in the UK, much of which has been influenced and developed as a result of European Union policies and European social laws.

The social dialogue forms a very small, but nevertheless a vitally important, part of the social dimension. The social dialogue in the UK has seen a rapid and significant expansion in the last few years.

The various aspects of the social dialogue between the social partners, as for example, information, consultation, collective bargaining, etc. form the very fabric of law, justice and democracy in European and British industrial relations all of which spell industrial democracy.

The concept of the British social dialogue will be analysed and evaluated in this article firstly by examining in a general manner the European sources which have had, to a greater or lesser extent, an influence in forming the British social laws and policies between the social partners at national, regional or local levels.

In its Solidarity chapter the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (OJ, 2000a) states that “… workers or their representatives must … be guaranteed information and consultation in good time in the cases and under the conditions provided for by Community law and national laws and practices” (OJ, 2000b). Furthermore, “Workers and employers, or their representative organizations, have in accordance with Community law and national laws and practices, the right to negotiate and conclude collective agreements …” (OJ, 2000c).

This Charter is not a legally binding document, it is soft law, but it is suggested that the European Court will take cognisance of the Charter provisions in its judgments. European Court judgments are legally binding on all 25 Member States which means that the provisions of the Charter could gradually become binding through the back door.

The same may be said of the Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights for Workers of 1989 (COM (89) 568 final, 1989). This too constitutes soft law. This latter provides, inter alia, for information consultation and participation of workers.

Although not directly relevant in the present context of the social dialogue concept in the UK, Articles 137-139 of the European Community Treaty need specific but brief mention for they have an important influence on the social dialogue in the Member States, including the UK. These articles are aimed at the social partners in both Member States themselves and at European level. With regard to the former (namely social partners at Member State level) a “… Member State may entrust management and labour, at their joint request, with the implementation of directives…” (European Community Treaty, 1997a). The social partners may therefore agree to negotiate with the purpose of implementing a directive by the date of its transposition and thus guarantee that the provisions of that directive would be respected ...
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