German court upholds civil service strike ban

By on 21/06/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court, Karlsruhe (Image courtesy: USW. Uwe Stohrer, Freiburg).

Introducing a right to strike for civil servants would fundamentally reshape the principles of the civil service, a German court has ruled.

In a judgment handed down last week, the Federal Constitutional Court rejected four complaints against a ban on civil servants striking. The case was bought by teachers, who are classified as civil servants, at schools in three different German states.

All had been disciplined for taking part in strikes organised by trade unions. The authorities which punished the teachers claimed that by striking, they had breached fundamental duties under civil service law – including a bar on being absent from work without permission.

Point of principle

According to the ruling, a right to strike, even if limited to particular groups of civil servants, would be incompatible with the fundamental principles of civil service law.

These include civil servants’ duty of loyalty, the principle of lifetime employment, and the principles of “alimentation”, which include remuneration regulated by law.

“At the very least, it would require fundamental changes to these principles, which are essential to the functioning of the civil service. If a right to strike was granted, there would be no scope, for instance, for regulating remuneration by law,” the judgment stated.

Blow for unions

The court also found that the authorities had not disregarded the constitution in presuming that there was a ban on strike action. There was no need to have the ban specifically laid down in constitutional law, the court said. Civil servants are required to work for the common good and to follow instructions, and the combination of these duties implies the ban sufficiently, the judgment states.

The teachers’ case was supported by the Education and Science Union (GEW) and the Federation of German Trade Unions (DGB). Marlis Tepe, chair of GEW, said it was a “black day for democracy and human rights”.

“The Constitutional Court sees neither a conflict between German and international law nor a collision in German jurisdiction,” she said.

The union will examine the verdict and consider its next steps, she added.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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