European level

What is labour law in general?

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

EU labour law covers 2 main areas:

  • Working & employment 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?

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. As regards the labour law, the EU complements policy initiatives taken by individual EU countries by setting minimum standards. In accordance with the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (particularly Article 153), it adopts laws (Directives) that set minimum requirements for 1). working & employment conditions; 2). informing & consulting workers.

The individual EU countries are free to provide higher levels of protection at the discretion of their national governments. While the European Working Time Directive entitles workers to 20 days' annual paid leave, for example, many countries have opted for a more generous right to the benefit of workers.




The role of the European Ombudsman

The institution of the European Ombudsman was created by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. The European Parliament elected the first Ombudsman in 1995.

The European Ombudsman investigates and reports on maladministration in the institutions and bodies of the European Community, such as the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. Only the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance acting in their judicial role do not fall within his jurisdiction. The Ombudsman usually conducts inquiries on the basis of complaints but can also launch inquiries on his own initiative.

Any citizen of the Union or any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State can lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman by mail, fax or e-mail.

The Ombudsman has wide powers of investigation. The Community institutions and bodies must supply him with the information he requests and give him access to the files concerned. The Member States must also provide him with information that may help to clarify instances of maladministration by the Community institutions and bodies.

If the case is not resolved satisfactorily during the course of the inquiries, the Ombudsman will try to find a friendly solution which puts right the case of maladministration and satisfies the complainant. If the attempt at conciliation fails, the Ombudsman can make recommendations to solve the case. If the institution does not accept his recommendations, the Ombudsman can make a special report on the matter to the European Parliament.

Many of the complaints lodged with the European Ombudsman concern administrative delay, lack of transparency or refusal of access to information. Some concern work relations between the institutions and their agents, recruitment of staff and the running of competitions.

Every year, the Ombudsman presents his Annual Report to the European Parliament. The Annual Report is translated into all the official languages of the Union. The Ombudsman also has a Website on the Internet which provides detailed and updated information on his activities. Finally, the Ombudsman makes official visits to all the Member States, which enables him to present his work directly to the citizens.

The following matters are not included in the scope of the European Ombudsman (exceptions):

  • action by the Court of Justice, the General Court and the Civil Service Tribunal acting in their judicial role;
  • complaints against local, regional or national authorities, even when these complaints refer to matters connected to the European Union;
  • actions by national courts or ombudsmen: the European Ombudsman does not serve as a court of appeal against decisions taken by these bodies;
  • any cases which have not previously been through the appropriate administrative procedures within the organisations concerned;
  • cases dealing with labour relations between European Union bodies and their staff, unless the opportunities for internal applications and appeals have been exhausted;
  • complaints against businesses or individuals.

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.

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?

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.



  • European employment strategy:

From the beginning of the entry into force of the European employment strategy (EES), adopted in 2002, the personal problems faced by people with disabilities are formally recognized and formulated. Its main aim is the creation of more and better jobs throughout the EU and it is the cornerstone of the EU’s employment policy.

It now constitutes part of the Europe 2020 growth strategy and it is implemented through the European semester, an annual process promoting close policy coordination among EU Member States and EU Institutions.

The European employment strategy consists of several basic directions, among which the most significant for this module are:

Every business has a responsibility to ensure it follows the relevant rules and regulations.

As an employee, the person should also be aware of his/ her own responsibilities, as well what his/ her rights are and what the employer should be doing with regard to, for example, pay, contracts, time off and working hours.

Every EU worker has certain minimum rights relating to:

  • health and safety at work: general rights and obligations, workplaces, work equipment, specific risks and vulnerable workers
  • equal opportunities for women and men: equal treatment at work, pregnancy, maternity leave, parental leave
  • protection against discrimination based on sex, race, religion, age, disability and sexual orientation
  • labour law: part- time work, fixed-term contracts, working hours, employment of young people, informing and consulting employees

Individual EU countries must make sure that their national laws protect these rights laid down by EU employment laws (Directives).

If you feel that your rights have not been respected, the first place to go is a labour inspectorate, employment tribunal, etc. in your country.

Everybody regarding the EU labour law have a right to equal opportunities. Fair and equal treatment is a basic right in the European Union. It is illegal to discriminate because of a person's sex, age, disability, ethnic or racial origin, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.

These areas of discrimination are included in the Amsterdam Treaty of the European Union as areas where the EU can act to prevent discrimination.

All countries in the EU are obliged to take these equality rules on board. Countries joining the EU also have to comply with these rules. EU equal treatment legislation sets out

minimum levels of protection that apply to everyone living and working in the European Union. Countries can go further and adopt even stronger legal measures.

Since the summer of 2003, Member States start to apply Directive 2000/78/EC of the European Council of 27 November 2000, which establishes a general framework for equal treatment in employment as part of the package of anti- discrimination measures. This is the first legislation conferring special rights of people with disabilities in the work environment. It establishes the principle of prohibition of discrimination and Article 5 requires the provision of acceptable accommodation for people with disabilities.

The European Union is supporting a range of measures to combat discrimination, from funding projects, to carrying out research to supporting awareness- raising and information campaigns.

In 1998 the European Commission adopted the Code of Good practices for employment of people with disabilities, and in May 1999 social partners formally adopt Joint declaration on employment of people with disabilities.

The EU promotes the active inclusion and full participation of disabled people in society, in line with the EU human rights approach to disability issues. Disability is a rights issue and not a matter of discretion. This approach is also at the core of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which the EU is a signatory.

The European Commission's European Disability Strategy 2010- 2020, adopted in 2010, builds on the UNCRPD and takes into account the experience of the Disability Action Plan (2004- 2010).

Its objectives are pursued by actions in eight priority areas: 1. Accessibility; 2. Participation; 3. Equality; 4. Employment; 5. Education and training; 6. Social protection; 7. Health; 8. External action.

Employment: raise significantly the share of persons with disabilities working in the open labour market. They represent one- sixth of the EU's overall working- age population, but their employment rate is comparatively low.