Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion

What is labour law?

Labour law defines your rights and obligations as workers and employers.

EU labour law covers 2 main areas:

  • working conditions – working hours, part-time & fixed-term work, posting of workers,
  • informing & consulting workers about collective redundancies, transfers of companies, etc.

How does it work?

The EU & labour law

EU policies in recent decades have sought to

  • achieve high employment & strong social protection,
  • improve living & working conditions,
  • protect social cohesion.

The EU aims to promote social progress and improve the living and working conditions of the peoples of Europe – see the preamble of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.

As regards labour law, the EU complements policy initiatives taken by individual EU countries by setting minimum standards. In accordance with the Treaty – particularly Article 153 – it adopts laws (directives) that set minimum requirements for

  • working & employment conditions,
  • informing & consulting workers.

Individual EU countries are free to provide higher levels of protection if they so wish. While the European Working Time Directive entitles workers to 4 weeks’ annual paid leave, for example, many countries have opted for a more generous right to the benefit of workers.

National authorities & labour law

The EU adopts directives which its member countries incorporate in national law and implement. This means that it is national authorities – labour inspectorates and courts, for example – that enforce the rules.

European Centre of Expertise

The European Union has created a European centre of expertise in the field of labour law, employment and labour market policies in 2016. The centre of expertise covers legal, regulatory, economic and policy aspects of employment and labour markets, including reforms, in the 27 Member States, the United Kingdom, European Economic Area (EEA) countries, candidate countries and potential candidates eligible for participation in the Progress axis of the European Union Programme for Employment and Social Innovation.

From the labour law perspective, the goals of the European centre of expertise, besides others, are to:

  • assist the Commission in its role of ensuring a correct application of EU-law across all Member States and monitor reforms in labour legislation as part of the European Semester process within the context of the EU 2020 strategy;
  • reinforce the Commission’s capacity to anticipate any issues that could arise from the application of EU directives, and analyse potential legal issues and the impact of European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings;
  • improve awareness and encourage public debate on topical issues of interest for EU labour law and legislation.

You can consult the monthly reports concerning the developments in the area of labour law in the EU countries and EEA countries.

The European Court of Justice & labour law

Whenever a dispute before a national court raises a question of how to interpret an EU directive, the court can refer the issue to the Court of Justice of the EU. The European Court then gives the national court the answers it needs to resolve the dispute.

The European Commission & labour law

The Commission checks that EU directives are incorporated into national law and ensures through systematic monitoring that the rules are correctly implemented.

When the Commission considers that an EU country has not incorporated a directive into national law correctly, it may decide to start infringement proceedings.

In this way, it ensures that all the rights set out in the directives are available in national law. However, the Commission cannot procure redress to individual citizens (i.e. compensate damages or set a situation right) – that is up to the competent national authorities.

What are the outcomes?

With over 240 million workers in the European Union, EU labour law rights benefit large numbers of citizens directly and have a positive impact on one of the most important and tangible areas of their daily lives.

EU labour law also benefits employers and society as a whole by

  • providing a clear framework of rights and obligations in the workplace,
  • protecting the health of the workforce,
  • promoting sustainable economic growth.

Moreover, EU labour law goes hand in hand with the single market. The free flow of goods, services, capital and workers needs to be accompanied by labour law rules, to make sure that countries and businesses compete fairly on the strength of their products – not by lowering labour law standards.

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