EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers

The Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, adopted on 9 December 1989 by a declaration of all Member States, with the exception of the United Kingdom, established the major principles on which the European labour law model is based and shaped the development of the European social model in the following decade. The fundamental social rights declared in the Community Charter are further developed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that became legally binding with the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009.

Since 1985, increasing concern had been expressed at all levels at the social consequences of the creation of the Single European Market, and there was a perceived need for the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive social dimension for the 1992 programme. In 1988, a working party of the Commission proposed a body of minimum social provisions. Following a Resolution on Fundamental Rights of the European Parliament in March 1989, a first draft of a Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights was published by the Commission in May 1989, a second draft was produced in October 1989 and the summit in Strasbourg on 9 December 1989 approved the final Charter.

Under this Charter, the Community is obliged to provide for the fundamental social rights of workers under the following headings:

  • Freedom of movement (Articles 1 to 3)
  • Employment and remuneration (Articles 4 to 6)
  • Improvement of living and working conditions (Articles 7 to 9)
  • Social protection (Article 10)
  • Freedom of association and collective bargaining (Articles 11 to 14)
  • Vocational training (Article 15)
  • Equal treatment for men and women (Article 16)
  • Information and consultation and participation for workers (Articles 17 to 18)
  • Health protection and safety at the workplace (Article 19)
  • Protection of children and adolescents (Articles 20 to 23)
  • Elderly persons (Articles 24 to 25)
  • Disabled persons (Article 26)
  • Member States’ action (implementation) (Articles 27 to 30)

The Charter represents a commitment by the Member States to a set of social policy and labour law objectives. Article 28 stipulates: ‘The European Council invites the Commission to submit as soon as possible initiatives which fall within its powers, as provided for in the Treaties, with a view to the adoption of legal instruments for the effective implementation, as and when the internal market is completed, of those rights, which come within the Community’s area of competence.’

In order to achieve these objectives, the European Commission adopted a Social Action Programme to implement the Charter (COM (89) 568 final). Hence, despite its merely declaratory character and the opposition of the UK government, the Charter was instrumental in the launching of initiatives in employment and industrial relations policy, which produced a number of directives during the 1990s. Among these are the 1992 directive regarding pregnancy and maternity, the 1993 Working Time Directive, the 1994 European Works Council Directive and the directives based on the framework agreements on parental leave, part-time work and fixed-term work. The Charter anticipated much of the potential of the fundamental individual employment rights in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, adopted in Nice in December 2000.

The legal status of the Community Charter is that of a mere political declaration, as stated in its preamble, since, due to the opposition of the UK government, the Charter could not be integrated into the EC Treaty in 1989. The UK eventually acceded to the Charter, following the election of a new government in May 1997.

Nonetheless, the preamble to the Treaty on European Union confirms the Member States’ ‘attachment to fundamental social rights as defined in the 1989 Community Charter’, and Article 151 of the Social Chapter of the TFEU: ‘The Union and the Member States, having in mind fundamental social rights such as those set out … in the 1989 Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers…’. As such, the Charter may be used by the European Court of Justice as an interpretative guide in litigation concerned with social and labour rights. Such litigation could take the form of legal action by way of preliminary references by national courts (Article 267 TFEU) challenging Member States’ implementation of Union law, which arguably violates the fundamental social rights of workers in the Charter.

See also: Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union; European Social Charter; European Works Councils; free movement of workers; freedom of association; health and safety; information and consultation; Social Action Programme.

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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