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European Convention on Human Rights

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This case concerns the right to Freedom of Association as enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to freedom of expression (Art 10 ECHR) and to a fair trial (Art 6§1 ECHR). The applicant, a chairperson of a trade union board, suffered detriment after addressing a letter about trade union grievances and concerns to the State officials overseeing her employer. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that there had been a violation of the aforementioned articles.

The facts regard the applicant’s trade union activity and the restrictions imposed on her employment as a result of this activity. On 2 March 2012, with the support of the members of the Latvian Air Traffic Controllers’ Trade Union (of which she was chairperson), the applicant sent a letter addressed to the Minister of Transport and the person representing the State as the sole shareholder of Latvijas Gaisa Satiksme (LGS), which employed her as an air traffic controller. The letter expressed a grievance related to working procedures at LGS which led to unpaid overtime, fatigue and low morale, which could in turn lead to lower safety standards. Following the letter, LGS requested that she be removed from her position as trade union chairperson, and eventually suspended her from employment. The applicant brought civil proceedings against LGS, however at all levels of appeal her dismissal was upheld. The hearings were held in closed proceedings.

The ECtHR observed that the main focus of the applicant’s complaint was that she was penalised for carrying out a trade union activity and that the domestic courts arbitrarily denied the trade union element of the dispute. [Para. 91]. The ECtHR found that the applicant represented the Trade Union when signing the letter of 2 march 2012, that it addressed various socio-economic matter and practices, and that accordingly the majority of the detriments that were imposed on the applicant were put in place expressly as a sanction for her having sent this letter [paras 95-97].

Having accepted that an interference with Article 11 ECHR had occurred, that it was prescribed by law and pursued a legitimate aim, the ECtHR assessed whether it was necessary in a democratic society. The ECtHR considered the following elements in its reasoning: the context within which the statements were made (including whether they formed part of a legitimate trade union activity); the nature of the statements (including whether the limits of acceptable criticisms were crossed); the damage suffered by the employer or other persons; and the nature and severity of the sanctions or other repercussions. [Para. 103].

The ECtHR concluded that the detriments imposed on the applicant were not compatible with the strict requirement of a “pressing social need” and were not proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued, and therefore could not be regarded as “necessary in a democratic society” and that there had been a violation of Article 11 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 10. [Paras 112-113].

Seeing that the decisions to examine the case in closed hearings were not sufficiently justified, the available means for rendering the decisions public were not considered sufficient to meet the requirement that judgments be pronounced publicly, and thus the ECtHR also found a violation of Article 6 of the Convention. [Para. 133]. 

The applicant was awarded both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. [Para. 140].

In support of this case, among others the European Trade union Confederation submitted a third party interventions [paras 81-84 and para. 123].


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