Posts Tagged Labour law
Heiploeg: Transfer of undertakings, employee protection and pre-packs. The Dutch Supreme Court Advocate-General on the implications of CJEU Smallsteps.
Update 20 April 2020 the SC itself has referred further, very extensive questions to the CJEU. As Frederik de Leo reports here, the questions are phrased in such as way as to amount essentially to giving the CJEU a resit.
I am no expert in all things insolvency and restructuring. I have an interest in it because of the conflict of laws issues (see the Insolvency Regulation) and the relationship with Brussels Ia. I am also interested in the labour law implications of corporate restructuring. These trigger highly relevant ethical, economic, and legal concerns.
Directive 2001/23 protects employees’ rights in the event of transfer of undertakings. The position of employees of course may be seen by potential investors as a hurdle to get onboard. Employees are inevitably on their cost cutting horizon. (For emperical Dutch research see Aalbers et al here and review in NL of same on Corporate Finance Lab).
The Directive exempts (Member States may provide otherwise) bankruptcies ‘proper’ and analogous insolvency proceedings. (They have to be under the management of what the Insolvency Regulation now calls an insolvency practitioner: an insolvency trustee, in other words). In C-126/16 Smallsteps, the Court held that pre-packs also known as ‘hushed bankruptcies’ do not qualify: since such a procedure is not ultimately aimed at liquidating the undertaking, the economic and social objectives it pursues are no explanation of, or justification for, the employees of the undertaking concerned losing the rights conferred on them by Directive 2001/23 (at 50).
Frederik De Leo reported here more extensively and with more knowledge of the issues, on the implications of Smallsteps, including implications for both the Dutch and the Belgian Statutes and proposals on pre-packs and corporate restructuring. On the Dutch implications, Robert van Moorsel had interesting insight here (in Dutch).
In Heiploeg, which was initiated before judgment in Smallsteps but is still being litigated (by Trade Unions), the Dutch Supreme Court /Hoge Raad is now essentially asked to apply the various conditions which the Court of Justice imposed for the bankruptcy exception of Directive 2001/13 to apply. Its procureur-generaal (essentially here fulfilling the role of an Advocate-General at the CJEU) opined in a well-documented Opinion on 1 November 2019 (apologies for late reporting: the Opinion traveled all sorts of corners in my briefcase) and proposes that the Supreme Court annul the lower court’s application of Smallsteps (which had found that the conditions for exception from the employees’ rights Directive did apply).
The Opinion is not I fear accessible to non-Dutch speakers – I am hoping proper experts will report more extensively once the Hoge Raad’s judgment is out.
Update 4 December 2018 thank you to his Grace der Graf von Luxemburg for additionally pointing out pending case C-16/18 Dobersberger dealing with workers employed on international trains which also travel through the host Member State – Update January 2020 the Court held 19 December 2019 after Opinion Szpunar AG in July 2019. – and see scholarly review of similar Dutch cases here.
Thank you MPI’s Veerle Van Den Eeckhout for pointing out a highly relevant reference to the CJEU by the Dutch Supreme Court /Hoge Raad. The link between the posted workers Directive and conflict of laws is clear, as I have also explained here. The most interesting part of the reference for conflicts lawyers, are the questions relating to ‘cabotage’, particularly where a driver carries out work in a country where (s)he is not habitually employed (international trade lawyers will recognise the issue from i.a. NAFTA). Update January 2019 the reference is now here, the case is C-815/18.
One to keep an eye on.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.
Update 19 October 2016. The court held yesterday. I shall have review it soon.
Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-135/15 Hellenic Republic v Grigorios Nikiforidis has travelled half the world with me in my briefcase. Time to tackle the blog queue…
As I had reported earlier, the Bundesarbeitsgericht has given the CJEU an opportunity to provide much needed clarity on the application of Rome I to continuing (employment) contracts, and on the Regulation (or as the case may be, the Rome convention)’s provisions on overriding mandatory law.
The Opinion (not available in English) first of all clarifies the temporal scope of Rome I. Article 28 Rome I provides that it applies to contracts concluded ‘as from 17 December 2009’ (this is the corrected format; initially Article 28 read ‘after’). When exactly a contract is ‘concluded’ needs to be determined in accordance with the putative lex causae as identified by the Regulation (an extension of Article 10(1), suggested by most if not all of relevant scholarship). What, however, about ‘continuing’ contracts’: those concluded before the temporal scope of the Regulation, continuing after, however renewed, renegotiated, amended…: do these continue to be covered by the Rome convention ad infinitum, or is there a cut-off point at which these continuing contracts become newly concluded?
I had suggested in my earlier posting that one’s intuitive assumption may be to prefer autonomous interpretation of the concept ‘concluded’. That, after all, is the standard approach of the Court. However I argued that in the current state of (lack of) harmonisation of contractual law, it is more likely that the Court will prefer an Article 10(1) type solution. Szpunar AG is of the same opinion. He first of all points out (at 33) that secondary EU law need not necessarily include verbatim transitionary measures. In the absence of a specific regime, the general rule is that the new provisions immediately apply to future effects of situations that arose under the old regime. Rome I’s transitory regime therefore, with its reference to date of ‘conclusion’ is an exception to that general principle. Can that moment of conclusion be autonomously defined? Szpunar AG shares my intuition (at 35 ff): along the lines of Article 10’s regime (the von Munchausen or the ‘bootstrap’ principle) the lex causae has to determine the moment of conclusion. For long-term contracts, this will inevitably lead to uncertainty (at 49). Yet that does not take away the soundness of the rule.
Next up is the application of Article 9’s provision on overriding mandatory provisions. This is the first time the CJEU will rule on that Article (Unamar was held under the Rome Convention). The Regulation quite deliberately limited the room for manoeuvre for the court seized to apply overriding mandatory law other than that of the forum: only such laws of the country where the obligations arising out of the contract ‘have to be performed’ can come into calling. That place is likely to be Germany in the case at issue (the Regulation does not define ‘place of performance’ under Article 9(3)) – however the AG suggests differently: there are a variety of reasons to assume that Greece, too, can be that place (at 95).
Szpunar AG first of all, in his very first para, remarks that scholarly attention to ‘lois de police’ far exceeds its featuring in practice. He also notes that von Savigny himself discussed ordre public (at 68 with references) and succinctly discusses the difference between the two (at 69-70). He repeats (at 78) that scholarly attention to overriding mandatory law has been excessive. He then rejects the suggestion that Article 9(3) needs to be applied restrictively to such a degree that its application becomes pretty much near-impossible. Importantly, he rejects in the process (a la Kainz) a strict parallel between ‘performance’ in Article 9(3) Rome I and Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast, and suggest that while the latter needs strict interpretation in line with the overall interpretative rules of that Regulation, there is no such need for Article 9(3) (at 92).
I wonder whether the Court will still hold before the recess (professor Szpunar Opined in April: I did flag there is a queue of cases waiting to be reviewed…
(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2, Heading 220.127.116.11, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5 , heading 3.2.8.
Commission effectively supplements Rome I using the posted workers Directive. Defines ‘temporary employment’ as not exceeding 24 months.
Update 15 July 2018 The text has now been adopted as Directive 2018/957. References to Rome I have been deleted however recital 9 and Article 1 reach a similar effect, tied to a reduced period of in principle 12 months.
Update 31 May 2017 A quick note by way of interim update: the proposal is stuck in Parliament (awaiting committee decision).
Thank you Fieke van Overbeeke for pointing this out to me. The EC have proposed to amend the posted workers Directive, to address unfair practices and promote the principle that the same work at the same place be remunerated in the same manner.
The amendment essentially relates to Article 8(2) of the Rome I Regulation, which partially corrects choice of law made in the context of contracts for employment. The proposal amounts to Union harmonisation of the concept ‘temporary employment’, as one not exceeding 24 months.
The proposal, if adopted, would insert an Article 2a in the posted workers Directive, 96/71, as follows:
Posting exceeding twenty-four months
1. When the anticipated or the effective duration of posting exceeds twenty-four
months, the Member State to whose territory a worker is posted shall be deemed to
be the country in which his or her work is habitually carried out.
2. For the purpose of paragraph 1, in case of replacement of posted workers
performing the same task at the same place, the cumulative duration of the posting
periods of the workers concerned shall be taken into account, with regard to workers
that are posted for an effective duration of at least six months.
Recitals 6-8 give context:
(6) The Rome I Regulation generally permits employers and employees to choose the law applicable to the employment contract. However, the employee must not be deprived of the protection of the mandatory rules of the law of the country in which or, failing that, from which the employee habitually carries out his work. In the absence of choice, the contract is governed by the law of the country in which or, failing that, from which the employee habitually carries out his work in performance of the contract.
(7) The Rome I Regulation provides that the country where the work is habitually carried out shall not be deemed to have changed if he is temporarily employed in another country.
(8) In view of the long duration of certain posting assignments, it is necessary to provide that, in case of posting lasting for periods higher than 24 months, the host Member State is deemed to be the country in which the work is carried out. In accordance with the principle of Rome I Regulation, the law of the host Member Sates therefore applies to the employment contract of such posted workers if no other choice of law was made by the parties. In case a different choice was made, it cannot, however, have the result of depriving the employee of the protection afforded to him by provisions that cannot be derogated from by agreement under the law of the host Member State. This should apply from the start of the posting assignment whenever it is envisaged for more than 24 months and from the first day subsequent to the 24 months when it effectively exceeds this duration. This rule does not affect the right of undertakings posting workers to the territory of another Member State to invoke the freedom to provide services in circumstances also where the posting exceeds 24 months. The purpose is merely to create legal certainty in the application of the Rome I Regulation to a specific situation, without amending that Regulation in any way. The employee will in particular enjoy the protection and benefits pursuant to the Rome I Regulation.
It would obviously be attractive to ensure the same rule is verbatim included in a future amendment of the Rome I Regulation.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.
Postscript 21 September 2015: the case is C-135/15 Hellenic Republic v Grigorios Nikiforidis.
The German Federal Labour Court, the ‘Bundesarbeitsgericht’, has provided the ECJ with an opportunity to provide much needed clarity on the application of Rome I to continuing (employment) contracts, and on the Regulation (or as the case may be, the Rome convention)’s provisions on overriding mandatory law. The Bundesarbeitsgericht has issued a press release on the case, Giesela Rühl flagged the case in March, and Lisa Günther has more detailed input on the overall context. Claimant is a Greek, employed by the Greek State at the Greek primary school in Nuremberg (Germany). His salary was reduced in accordance with relevant Greek Saving Laws. Claimant asks for payment of the sums withheld. Is the German court bound to apply the Greek Saving Laws?
The case (which as yet to appear on the ECJ’s website) first of all seeks clarification on the temporal scope of Rome I. Article 28 Rome I provides that it applies to contracts concluded ‘as from 17 December 2009’ (this is the corrected format; initially Article 28 read ‘after’). When exactly a contract is ‘concluded’ needs to be determined in accordance with the lex causae as identified by the Regulation (an extension of Article 10(1), suggested by most if not all of relevant scholarship). There has hitherto been much less noise about the application of Article 28 to ‘continuing’ contracts’: those concluded before the temporal scope of the Regulation, continuing after, however renewed, renegotiated, amended…: do these continue to be covered by the Rome convention ad infinitum, or is there a cut-off point at which these continuing contracts become newly concluded? Any suggestion along these latter lines presumably requires determination of a threshold. For instance, adaptation of price in line with inflation presumably is not sufficient to speak of a ‘new’ contract. But would contractually foreseen price renegotiation to take account of economic cycles, lead to such a new contract?
One’s intuitive assumption may be to prefer autonomous interpretation of the concept ‘concluded’ however in the current state of (lack of) harmonisation of contractual law, it is more likely that the Court will prefer an Article 10(1) type solution.
Next up is the application of Article 9’s provision on overriding mandatory provisions. This is the first time the ECJ will rule on that Article (Unamar was held under the Rome Convention). The Regulation quite deliberately limited the room for manoeuvre for the court seized to apply overriding mandatory law other than that of the forum: only such laws of the country where the obligations arising out of the contract ‘have to be performed’ can come into calling. That place is likely to be Germany in the case at issue (the Regulation does not define ‘place of performance’ under Article 9(3)).
No doubt the ECJ will cut some corners, per judicial economy, however the case nevertheless promises to be entertaining.
‘More closely connected’ in employment contracts – The ECJ in Schlecker emphasises tax and national insurance (social security)
I reported earlier on Wahl AG’s Opinion in C-64/12 Schlecker. The ECJ held last week. Reminder: formally the judgment relates to the application of the similar provision in the predecessor of the Rome I Regulation, the 1980 Rome Convention. The relevant provisions have not materially changed, however. The ECJ in fact refers to the slightly more precise provisions of Rome I in support.
In the case at issue, a closer connection with Germany was suggested by the circumstances as a whole, in particular by the following facts: the employer is a legal person governed by German law; the remuneration was paid in German marks (prior to the introduction of the euro); the pension arrangements were made with a German pension provider; Ms Boedeker had continued to reside in Germany, where she paid her social security contributions; the employment contract referred to mandatory provisions of German law; and the employer reimbursed Ms Boedeker’s travel costs from Germany to the Netherlands.
The Court concurs with the AG that the closer connection test must apply as suggested by its formulation: even if there is a habitual place of performance, this may be trumped by other circumstances. However the Court also held that the sheer amount of ‘other criteria’ in and of itself does not suffice to rebut the presumption: ‘the court called upon to rule in a particular case cannot automatically conclude that the rule laid down in Article 6(2)(a) of the Rome Convention must be disregarded solely because, by dint of their number, the other relevant circumstances – apart from the actual place of work – would result in the selection of another country‘ (at 40).
In other words: the actual place of work has considerable gravity. Nevertheless, among the other criteria, there are two, the Court suggested (however without reference to specific support in preparatory works or otherwise), which are particularly relevant:
‘among the significant factors suggestive of a connection with a particular country, account should be taken in particular of the country in which the employee pays taxes on the income from his activity and the country in which he is covered by a social security scheme and pension, sickness insurance and invalidity schemes. In addition, the national court must also take account of all the circumstances of the case, such as the parameters relating to salary determination and other working conditions.’ (at 41).
As always, much misery may be avoided by inserting a proper choice of law in the contract, in accordance with the Convention (now Regulation).
In his Opinion in Schlecker v Boedeker, Wahl AG offers a number of substantive criteria for national courts to apply the ‘closer connection’ test of Article 8(4) of the Rome I Regulation on the law applicable to contracts – albeit formally his Opinion is on the application of the similar provision in its predecessor, the 1980 Rome Convention (the relevant provisions have not materially changed). The Convention reads in relevant part
Article 6 – Individual employment contracts
1. Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 3, in a contract of employment a choice of law made by the parties shall not have the result of depriving the employee of the protection afforded to him by the mandatory rules of the law which would be applicable under paragraph 2 in the absence of choice.
2. Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 4, a contract of employment shall, in the absence of choice in accordance with Article 3, be governed: (a) by the law of the country in which the employee habitually carries out his work in performance of the contract, even if he is temporarily employed in another country ; or
(b) if the employee does not habitually carry out his work in any one country, by the law of the country in which the place of business through which he was engaged is situated;
unless it appears from the circumstances as a whole that the contract is more closely connected with another country, in which case the contract shall be governed by the law of that country.
In the case at issue, Schlecker is a company governed by German law which is active in the retailing of beauty and health products. Although Schlecker is established in Germany, it has many branches in several Member States of the European Union. Under an initial employment contract, Mrs Boedeker – a German national and resident – was employed by Schlecker and performed her duties in Germany from 1 December 1979 to 1 January 1994. Under a further contract, concluded on 30 November 1994, Mrs Boedeker was appointed by Schlecker, with effect from 1 March 1995 until the summer of 2006, as distribution manager (‘Geschäftsführerin/Vertrieb’) for the entire territory of the Netherlands. In that capacity, Mrs Boedeker in fact performed her duties in the Netherlands. By letter of 19 June 2006, Schlecker informed Mrs Boedeker that her position as manager for the Netherlands would be abolished with effect from 30 June 2006 and invited her to take up, under the same contractual conditions, the post of head of accounts (‘Bereichsleiterin Revision’) in Dortmund (Germany), with effect from 1 July 2006. Although Mrs Boedeker lodged an objection on 4 July 2006 against that notice of amendment (‘Änderungskündigung’), she took up her post as regional manager in Dortmund. On 5 July 2006, Mrs Boedeker declared herself unfit for work on medical grounds. As from 16 August 2006, she received benefits from a German health insurance fund (‘Krankenkasse’). Subsequently, various actions were brought both by Mrs Boedeker and by Schlecker before the courts.
In the absence of explicit choice of law by the parties to the contract, the connecting factors sub a) and b) need to be looked at consecutively: i.e. with the ‘habitual’ workplace having priority. Both have been looked in detail by previous case-law. The ‘escape clause’ of the final part of the Article, however has so far not been interpreted by the ECJ.
Wahl AG takes the opportunity to firstly set out the overall logic of the choice of law process under Article 6 (now 8), with an important insight (and the helpful use of moot examples; often used by us in class but not often in Opinions of the AG) into the issue of favor laboratoris. Article 6(1) obliges the national court to test any express choice against the laws which would apply in the absence of choice, and to have the strictest of these (i.e. the most favourable towards the employee) – albeit only for those stricter provisions – trump even express choice of law. In the absence of choice, however, this comparison need no longer be made: whichever law is identified by Article 6(2) applies in full, even if it is not the most protective towards the employee.
He subsequently advises in favour of giving the escape clause the widest possible remit, trumping the presumptions of Article 6(1) a) and b), also in the particular situation in which an employee has performed an employment contract habitually, for a lengthy period and without interruption, in a single country. In determining what the AG calls the ‘centre of gravity of the employment relationship’, it is suggested that inter alia the following criteria are relevant: place of habitual performance; the fact that the employee pays taxes and contributions in a particular country, relating to the income from his activity and the fact that he is covered by the social security scheme there and the various pension, sickness insurance and invalidity schemes; In each of these, the AG suggests, the court has to review in fact whether these particular choices were not imposed on the employee, but rather chosen consensually.
As always, one has to wait and see what the Court says – however this case is certain to be very relevant to employment law practice.