Redfearn v United Kingdom and an Integrated Approach to Labour Rights

by | Dec 23, 2012

Following on from Alan Bogg’s analysis of Redfearn v United Kingdom, this post by Anjoli Maheswaran Foster focuses on a different aspect of the case- the ‘integrated approach’ to social labour rights that has been adopted by the European Court of Human Rights. 

In recent years, the Strasbourg Court has made use of an ‘integrated approach’ to the protection of social labour rights. Through this approach, the Court has used the civil and political rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) to protect social labour rights, for example, the right to work, the right to join trade unions, the right to safe and healthy working conditions. This is based on the idea that civil and political rights have inherent social and economic components. Several cases illustrate this approach. In Sidabras v Lithuania (2004) the applicants were dismissed from their jobs under Lithuanian law, because they had previously worked for the KGB. The Court held that this fell within the ambit of Article 8, and was discriminatory under Article 14. Thus, the Court used Convention rights to private life and equality to protect what would have been traditionally classed as a social right- the right to work. Also, in Enerji Yapi-Yol Sen v Turkey (2009) the Article 11 right to freedom of association was used to protect the social right of workers to join trade unions and have them represent their interests. In the recent case of CN v UK (2012), discussed by Gwendolen Morgan in a previous post on this blog, the Court used the Article 4 prohibition on slavery, servitude and forced labour to protect the social right to work freely in the labour field. In the Redfearn case, the Court continued with this approach. The Court used Article 11 to protect Mr Redfearn’s right to work.

This ‘integrated approach’ assumes especial importance in the context of labour rights because social labour rights themselves are not very strongly protected.  Labour rights are protected by the European Social Charter, but the rights in the Charter cannot be enforced through the Strasbourg Court. Rather, the Charter uses a ‘soft’ method of enforcement through reporting procedures and a collective complaints procedure.  Social labour rights are also protected through various International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions- once again, however, these conventions in general contain only ‘soft’ methods of enforcement. Therefore, the Strasbourg Court’s use of civil and political rights in the Convention to protect social labour rights places the latter on a much stronger footing.

Anjoli Maheswaran Foster read for the BA in Jurisprudence at Keble College, Oxford and is currently reading for the Bachelor of Civil Law. 


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