Sunday, July 21, 2024

This is an ARCHIVED article at Information and/or links may well be out of date.

map of 47 Council of Europe membersIn our 2011 article Armed Forces Trade Unions? we said, firstly, that based on many surveys and our own consultations with serving personnel, we did not consider that traditional trade union status was the appropriate format for an armed forces representative body. Secondly that in any case, armed forces representative bodies in other advanced countries don't go on strike, and this includes those which are registered trade unions.

Might this be about to change in at least some European countries? BAFF has learned that the Council of Europe has published (7 June 2019) a puzzling and unhelpful decision by its European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) in a case brought against Italy relating to members of the Guardia di Finanza, a law enforcement agency which is "militarised" but does not come under the country's Ministry of Defence.

As in a previous case on behalf of non-commissioned personnel of the Irish Defence Forces, the ECSR found the member state in violation of certain provisions of the Revised European Social Charter (1996), but contrary to its decision in the Irish case, the ECSR also found that Italy was in breach of the right of those personnel to strike.

The fact that the case concerns members of the Financial Guard rather than mainstream armed forces might have influenced the ECSR but it should not have, as the case proceeded on the basis that they are members of the armed forces.

The decision will now go before the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers which can then issue a Recommendation to member countries. Any such Recommendation could then be applicable to the armed forces of most Council of Europe member states - but not the UK.

Although the United Kingdom is a member of the Council of Europe, fortunately the ECSR ruling would not directly affect the United Kingdom, as the ruling is under the Revised European Social Charter, which we have not ratified. The 1961 version of the Charter, which the UK is signed up to, essentially leaves such matters to the discretion of member states.

Nevertheless our first reaction must be that the ECSR decision in the Italy case is ill-considered and inconsistent, and can only confuse the growing campaign for appropriate representative arrangements for UK forces personnel.