KLM and unions agree on test case trial for wildcat strikers

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In July 2002, ground engineers at KLM, the Dutch airline, took wildcat strike action in support of a pay claim, leading the company to threaten legal action against them for damages. In October, KLM agreed with three trade unions (FNV, CNV and De Unie) that a test case on such individual liability for damages, involving four of the strikers, should be taken to court. However, the Dutch Association of Ground Engineers (NVLT) has rejected this agreement.

In October 2002, Royal Dutch Airlines ( KLM) reached agreement with three trade unions on how KLM’s claim for damages filed against ground engineers who participated in a wildcat strike at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport on 27 July 2002 (NL0209103F) is to be settled. The unions are concerned are the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV), the Christian National Trade Union Federation (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond, CNV) and De Unie-Federation of Managerial and Staff Unions (Unie Middelbaar en Hoger Personeel, De Unie MHP).

The ground engineers' strike, which cost the company EUR 9 million, was aimed at forcing KLM to pay salaries comparable to those of their US counterparts. Following the strike, KLM initially offered the 113 strikers the option of settling out of court for a sum of EUR 2,000 each, or of awaiting legal proceedings in which they would face a claim for damages to the sum of EUR 6,000 each. Under the deal between the company and unions, the courts will now have the task of determining whether or not KLM has the right to demand compensation for damages in this case.

The approach agreed on by KLM and the unions is that a test case should be filed against a maximum of four of the strikers, to be appointed by the unions, in which assessment of their individual liability is the key issue. The employees in question will be given the choice of individually ratifying this agreement with KLM by placing their signature to it. This is necessary because the case in question relates to a conflict between individual employees and their employer. If they choose not to sign the agreement, further legal action may be taken against them after the test case is closed, and they may face claims exceeding the limit of EUR 2,000. KLM holds that the outcome of the test case will be binding. Should KLM lose the case, it will accept the ruling. However, should the ruling be in KLM’s favour, the EUR 2,000 claim will remain in force.

Although this solution has the backing of the three large unions, the Dutch Association of Ground Engineers (Nederlandse Vereniging van Luchtvaarttechnici, NVLT) has rejected the proposal. It therefore remains to be seen whether four strikers will be found to participate in the test case.

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