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Swedish unions want annulment of Laval judgement

| Text: Kerstin Ahlberg, editor EU & Arbetsrätt

The Swedish Supreme Court must annul the judgment of the Swedish Labour Court in the Laval case! That's what the Swedish Building Workers' Union and the Swedish Electricians' Union demand. They say the supreme court made serious mistakes when sentencing them to pay record damages after the twist over the building of a school in Vaxholm (see The Laval case, act III – Sweden's Labour Court rules union must pay high damages)

The unions do not dispute the fact that their industrial action was illegal according to EU law. They are protesting against the supreme court's decision making them liable to Laval for damages, even though they had followed Swedish law which clearly said the industrial action was legal. 

The labour court is the highest court for labour-related issues in Sweden, and you cannot appeal its judgements. There are, however, a few so-called extraordinary legal remedies which the supreme court can use in cases which normally do not present a chance for appeal. One such remedy is for the supreme court to order a re-trial, the other sees the supreme court simply annulling the judgement arguing miscarriage of justice. The threshold for applying both remedies is very high. It is not enough for the labour court to have made a mistake for the supreme court to accept the unions' appeal - the mistake must be "evident" or "severe".

The unions have presented several arguments to support their claim that this is the case. Firstly, the labour court ruled that EU legislation says private organisations must be liable for damages just like the state is, when they are found in breach of the EU treaty's rules on freedom of movement. The unions say there is no such EU rule. In any case the situation was so muddy legally that the labour court had to return to the EU court to ask more questions - this time about the liability for damages - before passing judgement. The unions point out that even the labour court's own members disagreed on how to interpret the EU legislation. They also dispute the labour court's claim that their breach of EU law was "clear". This judgement, they say, was severely wrong - especially because the labour court itself from the beginning considered the legal situation to be the same as the unions did. 

The argument does not end here. In not too long we shall see whether the Laval case runs in to act IV.


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