(CN) - Laws allowing EU workers to unionize under certain circumstances need a boost to defeat national exemptions for certain types of workers, Europe's highest court ruled Wednesday.
The European constitution and a law passed in 2002 require businesses with at least 50 employees - and establishments with 20 members - to let workers form unions and elect representatives. French lawmakers implemented national legislation, however, that excluded apprentices and independent contractors from staff counts for unionizing purposes.
When workers at the Association de mediation sociale (AMS) attempted to unionize, the company balked on grounds that - given France's exemption - it didn't have the required number of workers to allow the formation of a union. The fledgling union argued that the exclusions allowed under French law conflicted with EU law.
A French appeals court asked the Court of Justice of the European Union to decide whether the union and its representative had standing under EU law to challenge the national exemption.
In its opinion, the Luxembourg-based high court found that the EU law in question prohibits member states from excluding certain employee categories from business counts. France's exemptions deprive employees of their rights and make EU law ineffective, the Court of Justice found.
The justices nevertheless added that this particular case involves a dispute between private parties that EU law in its current form cannot resolve. Europe's constitution gives workers clear rights to unionize, but the laws used to enforce the constitution aren't specific enough to make the French exclusions illegal.
"It must also be observed that article 27 of the charter, entitled 'Workers' right to information and consultation within the undertaking,' provides that workers must, at various levels, be guaranteed information and consultation in the cases and under the conditions provided for by European Union law and national laws and practices," the court wrote.
"It is therefore clear from the wording that, for this article to be fully effective, it must be given more specific expression in European Union or national law.
"It is not possible to infer from the wording of the charter or from the explanatory notes to that article that the directive, as a directly applicable rule of law, lays down and addresses to the member states a prohibition on excluding from the calculation of the staff numbers in an undertaking a specific category of employees initially included in the group of persons to be taken into account in that calculation."
The court concluded: "Accordingly, article 27 of the charter cannot, as such, be invoked in a dispute, such as that in the main proceedings, in order to conclude that the national provision which is not in conformity with EU law should not be applied."
Workers can still seek financial compensation from the French government, however, because the law is out of sync with EU policies, according to the ruling.