European Court of Human Rights Re-affirms Right to Strike in Key Decision

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has issued, on 20 November, a key ruling in defence of the right to strike in the railway sector in a case concerning a train driver in Russia.

Anatoly Ognevenko, a member of the Russian locomotive railway union RPLBZh, was dismissed from his job in Moscow on April 28 2008 after he participated in a one-day strike over wages. While the Russian courts did not challenge the legality of the strike, they nevertheless refused to declare his dismissal unlawful. The case, which was opened at the ECHR in 2009, was based on an analysis of formal compliance with the relevant Russian laws. It concluded with the finding that the dismissal was a disproportionate restriction on Ognevenko’s right to freedom of association.

The Court once again confirmed that the right to strike falls under the protection of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights as an important aspect of the right to freedom of association by basing itself on the ILO supervisory bodies, which consider the right to strike as an indispensable corollary of the freedom of association.
The Court also noted that the ILO regularly criticised Russian legislation banning railway workers’ right to strike. It declared that there is no reason to reject the existing international approach to the definition of an essential service and to consider the railway transport as such.

“The right to strike is fundamental, and as with other basic workers’ rights, it is under attack in many parts of the world. This decision from the ECHR re-affirms the right to strike, based in international law with the jurisdiction of the International Labour Organization. We welcome the decision, in the full knowledge that the rule of law means that the right to strike must be respected,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

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