Belgian CESI affiliate wins landmark court case on trade union pluralism

On last week Thursday, May 18, the Belgian Syndicat Independant pour Cheminots (SIC), an affiliate of CESI’s member organisation UNSP (Union Nationale des Services Publics), won a landmark case at the Belgian Constitutional Court which will strengthen the rights of independent trade unions in social dialogue and strike instances in Belgium.

The Constitutional Court delivered its judgment following the SIC’s contestation of certain provisions of Belgian legislation (“loi Bellot”) regarding the exclusion from social dialogue and the privation of the right to strike of independent trade unions. The application of the contested provisions had the consequence of depriving these organisations of prerogatives such as the ability to give provisional notices of strike action or the right to participate in social concertation.

CESI is delighted that the constitutional court of Belgium recognised that the application of this law caused severe and irreversible harm to independent trade unions such as the SIC. CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger said: “The court recognised the importance of the right to strike as being a fundamental raison d’être of all trade unions and as one of their main tool of pressure. The court held that the current procedure of allowing trade unions identified as ‘recognised’ and ‘representative’ while excluding others defined as ‘approved’ from social conflict concertation is not justified and not compatible with the right to association and the right to collective bargaining. As a European umbrella organisation representing numerous independent trade unions, CESI warmly welcomes the judgment of the Belgian Constitutional Court and we congratulate our affiliates UNSP and SIC for their efforts.”

The court also held that the impossibility to put forward candidates to social elections and the exclusion of affiliated members from elections are not justified. These provisions had as a consequence the deprivation of many trade unions to participate in a democratic process which would enable workers to elect their representatives within the respect of trade union pluralism.

The judgment represents an important statement for the right of all trade unions to social bargaining and their right to strike as a whole. The paragraphs at issue within Belgian law were annulled by the court, and with this the right of independent trade unions to participate in social elections and their entitlement to give strike notices have been resorted.