The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) this month heard from lawyers representing public sector staff, in a case that could require Spain to bring hundreds of thousands of public sector staff onto its permanent employee payroll.
Nearly one in four of Spain’s 2.6m public sector workers are employed on temporary contracts, but lawyers and representatives of the European Commission (EC) claim that the practice contravenes community directive 1999/70 on fixed-term work, which prohibits the abuse of temporary employment.
The case is being pursued by lawyer Javier Araúz de Robles, who is representing five Spanish public workers: a computer scientist who has been working for 18 years as an interim, and four dentists who have spent between 12 and 17 years moving from one temporary contract to another. All five work for SERMAS, Madrid’s public health provider.
“The Commission supports our claims by reiterating that these situations of abuse are incompatible with the community directive”, Araúz de Robles tells Global Government Forum from Madrid.
On 15 May, the oral hearing was held in Luxembourg. During the proceedings, EC representatives argued that “the Spanish administration cannot rely on the national law to appoint temporary personnel to meet temporary needs” when those personnel are effectively addressing “permanent needs”.
The directive 1999/70 indicates that national law must penalise companies that commit such abuses – with employers required to either turn temporary contracts into permanent employment, or pay compensation.
During the hearing, the EC’s lawyers argued that compensation would not be sufficient in this case, since it “is not a measure that, on its own, protects workers”, as reported by the Spanish newspaper Cinco Días.
Implications for the civil service
A verdict against Spain would have binding force in all Spanish administrative authorities and judicial bodies, the office of Araúz de Robles told Global Government Forum. So if the case is upheld, public workers who have suffered the same exploitation and present their case before the Spanish courts could be awarded permanent contracts.
“The sentence is going to revolutionise our public employment law. (…) The abuse of temporary work contracts implies pressure and coercion at the expense of the employee and creates a situation of lack of protection. This will change with the verdict”, said Araúz de Robles. The next step in this process will take place on 11 July, when the European Union advocate – who acts as an advisor to the CJEU – presents her findings after listening to the parties. The final verdict in the case is expected in September, sources told Global Government Forum.