The Court examined the case of Constitutional conformity of Article 3 of the Federal Law dated January 12, 1996, On Trade Unions, Their Rights and Guarantees of Their Activity on September 26, 2013. The cause for the examination was the complaints filed by the All-Russian Oil, Gas, and Construction Workers’ Union and the All-Russian Public Institutions and Public Services Workers’ Union.
In 2010 the trade unions introduced a number of amendments to their Statutes preserving their statutory capacity to create inter-regional, territorial (municipal, inter-municipal, and city), amalgamated, sector-based, district and other trade union organisations and their structural units – a shopfloor union organisation and a trade union group.
Following a representation from the RF Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor’s Office carried out an auditing of the trade unions’ Statutes and contested in court the legality of those provisions therein that concerned the organisational structure of trade unions (along with the new provisions), arguing that the creation of trade unions structures which were not provided for in the Federal Law On Trade Unions, Their Rights and Guarantees of their Activity was inadmissible. The courts ruled that the list of trade union organisations and their structural units set forth in the Law was definitive, not liable to any broader interpretation, and, thus, the provisions of the trade unions’ Statutes in question contradicted the federal legislation.
The Claimants’ Position
In the Claimants’ opinion, the practices of implementing Article 3 of the Federal Law On Trade Unions, Their Rights and Guarantees of their Activity interfere with the establishment inside trade unions of any structural unit that is not provided for in this norm, violate the freedom of association, unduly limit trade unions’ rights to independently adopt their Statutes and define their own internal structures, and clash with Articles 2, 6 (Part 2), 7 (Part 2), 18, 30 (Part 1), and 55 (Parts 2 and 3) of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
The Position of the Constitutional Court
The RF Constitution enshrines as a fundamental human right the right of any person to freedom of association, including the right to form and join trade unions in order to protect their interests, and guarantees freedom of activity to non-governmental associations. The right to create trade unions and participate in their activities is declared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is enshrined in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
The Federal legislature has no right to allow distortion of the very nature of the freedom of association which, according to the relevant Convention of the International Labour Organisation, includes trade unions’ right to define their own Statutes and Standing Orders, freely elect their representatives, organise the work of their secretariats, determine their activities, and formulate their action programs.
The functioning of trade union organisations and their structural units is governed by the goals of their creation, determined by the task of representing and protecting the members’ social and labour rights and interests, and correlates with the system of social partnership.
Workers and employers as parties to the social partnership can independently choose the forms and ways of their interaction. This means that trade unions have the right to form their own structures corresponding to the structure of a specific sector of economy or another sphere of labour activity.
The specification of possible types of trade union organisations in the Article Essential Terms of the contested law pursued the aim of achieving clarity of legal regulation and excluding the possibility of arbitrary use of accepted terms with regard to organisational structure of trade unions. For a long period of time nobody interpreted this Article as providing an exhaustive list of the types of trade unions organisations. In 2011, while examining the Claimants’ cases the law enforcement agencies read into the contested norm a sense that limited the right of trade unions to independently deal with issues related to their internal structure. This has led to the State’s interference in trade union affaires and violation of the citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of association, all of which does not conform to the relevant aims of the Constitution.
Thus, the contested provisions of Article 3 of the Federal Law On Trade Unions, Their Rights and Guarantees of their Activity do not conform to the RF Constitution, violate the constitutional right to freedom of association to the extent that they, following the meaning attached to them in their enforcement practices, are seen as providing an exhaustive list of the types of trade union organisations and their structural units, and thus preclude trade unions from independently – through their Statutes and provisions adopted by their Congresses, conferences, meetings – defining their organisational structure.
The Claimants’ court cases shall be re-examined in accordance with the announced decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.
The proceedings were chaired by Valery Dmitrievich ZOR’KIN
Lyudmila Mikhailovna ZHARKOVA served as the Rapporteur Judge