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European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms


The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1950, hence pre-dating the establishment of the European Union. However, all EU Member States are Members of the Council of Europe and have ratified the ECHR.

The Convention establishes the European Court of Human Rights. Any person who feels their rights have been violated under the Convention by a state party can take a case to the Court; the decisions of the Court are legally binding, and the Court has the power to award damages. State parties can also take cases against other state parties to the Court, although this power is rarely used.

The ECHR includes a number of rights relevant to the fields of employment and industrial relations. For example, in the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the Wilson and Palmer cases, a trade union successfully complained under Article 11 of the European Convention for a violation of freedom of association (Wilson and the National Union of Journalists; Palmer, Wyeth and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers; Doolan and others v. United Kingdom, [2002] Industrial Relations Law Reports 128, decided 2 July 2002, ECHR).

The European Court of Justice has gradually acknowledged that human rights form part of the fundamental principles of the EU legal order. In Rutili v. Ministre de l’Intérieur, Case C-36/75 [1975], the Court expressly confirmed that the rights in the Convention were protected in Community law. The Maastricht Treaty introduced Article 6(2) EC: ‘The Union shall respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed in Rome on 4 November 1950… as general principles of Community law.’ Since the coming into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, the Treaty of the European Union now claims in Article 6(2): ‘The Union shall accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Such accession shall not affect the Union's competences as defined in the Treaties.’

See also: Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union; European Social Charter; freedom of association; fundamental rights; international labour standards; negative freedom of association.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.
Page last updated: 21 September, 2011