Thematic feature - individual labour/employment disputes and the courts

This article examines how individual labour/employment disputes are handled through the courts in Latvia, as at March 2004.

In March 2004, the EIRO national centres in 24 European countries were asked, in response to a questionnaire, to give a brief overview of their country's system for dealing with individual labour/employment disputes through the courts, along with data on: the volume of cases; the costs; the timeframe; alternatives to going to court; and any current debate on these issues. The Latvian responses are set out below (along with the questions asked).

System

Please give a brief description of how disputes concerning individual employees' employment and labour rights are handled in your country by courts, tribunals or other official judicial bodies.

The procedures for settling labour disputes in Latvia are governed by the Labour Law (LV0405103F) and Industrial Disputes Law, which came into force on 1 January 2003 (procedures were previously governed by the Employment Code and a 1992 decision of the Supreme Council Presidium). The objective of the Industrial Disputes Law is to ensure the just and rapid hearing of labour disputes, regulating the institutions responsible for resolving such disputes and the procedures for hearing them. The law defines a labour dispute as any dispute arising from, or differences regarding, legal employment relations between: an employee, employees (or group of employees) or employee representative(s); and an employer, employers (group of employers), an employers' organisation or association of such organisations, or a sectoral 'supervisory institution'. Depending on the subject of the dispute and the parties involved, labour disputes are divided into individual rights disputes, collective rights disputes, and collective interest disputes. For resolving individual and collective rights disputes the Labour Law and the Civil Procedures Law are applicable, while for resolving collective interest disputes the Labour Law and the Strikes Law are applicable - in all cases insofar as the Industrial Disputes Law does not state otherwise.

Individual rights disputes are most relevant here. An individual rights dispute is a difference between an employee or employees (or group of employees) and an employer that arises from the conclusion, amendment, termination or performance of an employment contract, or from the application or interpretation of the rules laid down in normative acts, collective agreements or 'work procedure regulations'.

The Industrial Disputes Law seeks, if possible, to ensure that labour/employment disputes should be settled by negotiations between employees and employers. The parties may agree on the establishment of an industrial disputes committee within the company in order to resolve disputes that are not resolved through such negotiations. Employers and employee representatives may also agree on other procedures whereby individual rights disputes within the company can be resolved.

Any party to an individual rights dispute has the right to apply to a court of law (see below) if the dispute has not been resolved through negotiations between the employee and employer, or if one of the parties is dissatisfied by the decision of an industrial disputes committee. If parties have not attempted to resolve an individual rights dispute through negotiations, this may not be grounds for a court to refuse to accept an application and examine the facts of the matter. Under the terms of the Industrial Disputes Law, a court of law shall judge individual rights disputes, without the involvement of an industrial disputes committee, where these relate to:

  • applications to rule invalid an employer's notice of termination of an employment contract, or to reinstate a dismissed employee in their job;
  • an employer’s notice of termination of the contract, if the employee is a trade union member and the union does not agree with the termination;
  • delayed payment for work; and
  • infringement of anti-discrimination provisions.

This court-only procedure also applies, on the application of an employee or employer, if: the company does not have an industrial disputes committee; or a third party demands the termination of an employment contract.

Individual employment disputes are heard by general courts (vispārējās jurisdikcijas tiesas). Latvia’s system of general courts consists of: 34 district courts (rajonu tiesas), city courts (pilsētas tiesas) or first instance courts (pirmās instances tiesas); five regional courts (apgabaltiesas); and the Supreme Court (Augstākā tiesa). The court system also includes the Constitutional Court (Satversmes tiesa) and the administrative courts (Administratīvās tiesas). The Constitutional Court hears cases regarding the compliance of laws with the Constitution, while the administrative courts hear cases of alleged administrative infringements. There are no special labour or social courts and there are currently no proposals for their establishment. General courts are made up of professional judges. Both the district and regional courts hear individual labour disputes with one judge. Rulings in labour dispute cases may be appealed before higher courts. The Industrial Disputes Law states that individual rights disputes may not be heard by arbitration courts.

In terms of remedies in individual employment/labour dispute cases, the courts may - depending on the case - reinstate employment or employment rights, compensate for losses arising from the infringement of legislation or in connection with workplace accidents or work-related illnesses, or impose a penalty on an employer or employee.

The Industrial Disputes Law is applicable to all employees, including apprentices and trainees, unless stated otherwise in the law. It does not identify categories of employees who do not have the right to take individual rights disputes to court. However, other laws state that the procedures for individual labour disputes do not apply to public employees who are officially appointed to their positions and who do not have 'legal' employment relations, for example state civil servants and state officials. These people must resolve employment disputes through other legal procedures.

The Industrial Disputes Law states that trades unions have the right, without special authorisation, to represent their members in resolving individual rights disputes, and to bring court cases related to the interests of their members. Such rights are also set out in other laws.

Number of cases/disputes and costs

How many cases have been dealt with in your legal system by each category of court? Where possible, please provide statistics on the number of disputes in your country each year from 1990 to 2003 (or the latest year for which data are available). Where possible, please provide statistics on costs.

The table below provides the only information available relating to the number of individual employment/labour dispute cases - referring to courts of the first instance in 2003. No data are available on the costs of cases.

Civil cases related to individual employment disputes brought in courts of the first instance, 2003
Type of dispute .
Applications for reinstatement in employment 276
Applications for payment of wages and other employment disputes 1,015
Applications for damages 7,277*
Applications regarding work-related personal injury 6

* Any form of application for damages, including those in connection with labour/employment disputes.

Litigation timeframe

Where possible, please provide statistics on the timeframe within which court cases over individual labour/employment disputes are settled.

No information is available on how quickly individual disputes are settled.

Other means of resolving individual disputes

Is there any kind of legal mechanism forcing or encouraging the two parties (management and employees) to resolve a dispute by prior negotiation? Where there is such a mediation process foreseen, please give details. Is there any evidence that mediation has had an effect on the volume of claims handled by courts? Are there any corporate policies built into the structure of organisations in your country specifically to deal with disputes? How are the employees’ representative bodies involved in the process?

As noted above (under 'System') the Industrial Disputes Law seeks, where possible, to have disputes settled by negotiations between employees and employers, or if this is impossible by means of a company-level industrial disputes committee or another agreed procedure to resolve individual rights disputes within the company.

The Industrial Disputes Law sets out the procedures for the establishment of industrial disputes committees in companies. The employer and employee representatives should conclude a written agreement on this issue, setting out the composition of the committee, procedures for the election of members, the committee's area of competence, the procedure for hearing individual rights disputes, deadlines and other operational issues. Provisions on the establishment of an industrial disputes committee may be included in collective agreements. Costs connected with the establishment of a committee must be met by the employer unless otherwise agreed. Industrial disputes committees consist of an equal number of representatives of the employees and the employer. The committee's members should be independent in performing their duties. Any form of interference in the work of the committee, or attempts to influence its members, are forbidden.

An industrial disputes committee should hear the case within 10 days of receiving an application from a party to an individual rights dispute. Non-attendance by the parties to the dispute at the relevant committee meeting should not be a barrier to hearing the case and making a ruling. Industrial disputes committee rulings are made by a simple majority of members. Rulings enter into force 10 days after the parties to the case receive a statement of the ruling. The ruling is binding on the parties and must be complied with within 10 days. If a decision is not complied with willingly, the interested party may apply to a court within whose jurisdiction the employer is located for the enforcement of compliance with the industrial disputes committee’s ruling.

Industrial disputes committees do not examine those individual rights disputes that are under the direct jurisdiction of the courts (see above under 'System').

Experts consider that the possibilities for resolving individual rights disputes within companies built into the Industrial Disputes Law are the reason why only a relatively small number of industrial disputes come before the courts.

In some cases, employees complain about possible infringements of employment rights to the State Human Rights Bureau (Valsts cilvēktiesību birojs, VCB), mainly regarding unjustified dismissal, unpaid wages or a refusal to grant employment. The examination of such matters is not included in the institutional competence of the VCB, and it usually recommends that the complainant apply to a court or the State Employment Agency (Nodarbinātības Valsts aģentūra, NVA). In some other cases, for example those regarding discrimination, complaints are examined by the VCB.

Debate

Please summarise any current debate on the issue of employment/labour disputes litigated by courts in your country.

The system for resolving individual employment/labour disputes is not currently an important topic for trade unions and employers in general. However, some provisions of the law are somewhat controversial. For example, an employee representative body cannot bring a court cases in the event of a dispute if there is no trade union represented in the company concerned, and if an employee is not a union member, a union cannot defend their interests in court. There have been no special objections made by the social partners regarding the procedures for resolving labour disputes in the courts, except where the hearing of cases is delayed due to the courts' workload.

The VCB reports that some employees believe that the deadline for bringing a case in the event of termination of employment - one month from the date of receiving the notice of termination - is too short. However, the VCB also states that this deadline is sufficient for preparing an application.

With regard to the costs of bringing an individual employment/labour dispute case, the general view appears to be that court costs are acceptable, even though they are high compared with average earnings.

The current legislation on resolving labour/employment disputes came into force only recently, and therefore significant reforms and legislative amendments are not anticipated at present. The State Labour Inspectorate (Valsts Darba inspekcija, VDI) is observing the implementation of the legislation in companies and noting possible deficiencies. Given that the legislation is so new, and that many aspects of Latvian industrial relations are in their formative stages or incomplete, it is generally assumed that problems that have arisen are connected with 'teething difficulties'. New ways of resolving labour disputes have not been subject to debate among the social partners or more widely. (Raita Karnite, Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Sciences)

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