EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Collective agreements implementing directives

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Collective agreements are a mechanism for implementing EU directives in the field of employment and industrial relations. Article 249 EC stipulates that, ‘A Directive shall be binding, as to the result to be achieved, upon each Member State to which it is addressed, but shall leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods.’

The role of collective agreements in implementing Directives is established in EC law by Article 137(3) EC:

A Member State may entrust management and labour, at their joint request, with the implementation of Directives adopted pursuant to paragraph 2.

In that case, it shall ensure that, no later than the date on which a Directive must be transposed in accordance with Article 249, management and labour have introduced the necessary measures by agreement, the Member State concerned being required to take any necessary measure enabling it at any time to be in a position to guarantee the results imposed by that Directive.

Recognition of the role of collective agreements in implementing Directives emerged slowly from the case law of the European Court of Justice. The European Court of Justice considered the issue in Commission of the European Communities v. Kingdom of Denmark (Case 143/83, [1985] ECR 427). The Danish government asserted that collective agreements were its choice of form and method for implementation of the obligations of Council Directive 75/117 on equal pay. It was argued that the Danish legislation was but a secondary guarantee of the equality principle in the event that this principle was not guaranteed by collective agreements. An agreement of 1971 made such provision and covered most employment relations in Denmark. The Court held (pp. 434-435):

…that Member States may leave the implementation of the principle of equal pay in the first instance to representatives of management and labour. That possibility does not, however, discharge them from the obligation of ensuring, by appropriate legislative and administrative provisions, that all workers in the Community are afforded the full protection provided for in the Directive. That state guarantee must cover all cases where effective protection is not ensured by other means, for whatever reason, and in particular cases where the workers in question are not union members, where the sector in question is not covered by a collective agreement or where such an agreement does not fully guarantee the principle of equal pay.’

In accordance with the Commission’s Medium term social action programme 1995-1997 (COM (95) 134 final): ‘A clause concerning implementation by collective agreements will be inserted in all future Directives, where the issues may fall under the bargaining power of the social partners.’

See also: directives.


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