Dutch court finds Seafarers ‘Dockers’ clause falls within European competition law ‘Albany’ collective bargaining exception.

Many thanks Ruwan Subasinghe for alerting me to the judgment: Early July the courts at Rotterdam held in ITWF, Nautilus International and FNV v Marlow Navigation Netherlands BV et al that the International Transport Workers Federation (IT(W)F) Non Seafarers’ Work Clause, also known as the Dockers’ Clause, falls within the CJEU ‘Albany’ exception of EU competition law. The case was brought against a number of shipowners who disregarded the clause.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note I acted as expert witness for the ITWF.

The dockers’ Clause, negotiated between trade unions and employers, forms an integral part of a set of agreements primarily entered into by ITF and the Joint Negotiation Group (JNG – represent maritime owners from across the world) . In short  the clause amounts to a ban on ships’ crews carrying out work relating to securing and releasing the load on a ship (often: containers), collectively known as ‘lashing’ /’unlashing’ work. Tiredness and fatigue are some of the biggest risks for seafarers, who are expected to rest in the ports, not carry out the specialised and dangerous work of dockers. 

The Dockers’ Clause, together with the other employment conditions, was the result of an intensive and multi-year period of negotiations between a large number of social partners. Exemptions are possible under conditions.

Collective agreements of course are prima facie suspect under EU competition rules. The Albany ‘exception’ of the Court of Justice of the European Union concerns the core criteria which the CJEU employs in its competition law assessment of the activities carried out by organisations that organise social protection for workers in a given sector. The Court held (at 60) that

It therefore follows from an interpretation of the provisions of the Treaty as a whole which is both effective and consistent that agreements concluded in the context of collective negotiations between management and labour in pursuit of such objectives must, by virtue of their nature and purpose, be regarded as falling outside the scope of Article 85(1) of the Treaty.

Article 85(1) is what is now Article 101 TFEU, and by ‘such objectives’ the Court (at 59) means ‘social policy objectives’.

Note, for conflicts lawyers, the application of Article 4-4 Rome I, and, viz some of the defendants, Article 4(1) Rome II, to conclude application of Dutch law.

The Court at Rotterdam held that the seafarers clause fits squarely within the Albany exception: it is ‘entered into in the framework of collective bargaining between employers and employees’, and it improves the employment and working conditions of workers’. Note at 4.38 the reference to these agreements necessarily involving a ‘package deal’ which implies that the interest of all involved will be weighed and that as a result of the collective bargaining, some of those concerned will get a better deal than others. However both the CJEU and the Court at Rotterdam leave that assessment to the negotiation process.

Further arguments based ia on free movement of workers, services, establishment  were rejected. (A narrow Covid19 exception was accepted for a narrow set of circumstances).

An important judgment for those interested in competition law and collective bargaining.

Geert.

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