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EU takes action against baseless legal threats used to stop strikes

Employers and some governments who use vexatious legal threats to try and stop strikes and gag workers and trade unions could be fined in future under a new EU directive given final approval by the European Parliament.

Corporations are increasingly using SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) in an attempt intimidate workers and their unions, with 161 such cases launched in 2022 compared to 4 in 2010, according to research by the CASE Coalition.

The majority of cases are dismissed, withdrawn or settled, but not before lengthy procedures causing substantial financial and psychological consequences on those targeted.

The tactic is primarily used to silence journalists, such as Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was facing 48 such lawsuits when she was assassinated in 2017.


Corporations are also using SLAPPS to prevent or punish action by workers and unions:

France: Three trade union activists were unsuccessfully sued for defamation after having denounced poor working conditions among foreign workers in agriculture.
Finland: A lawful strike by Finnair workers was cancelled after being subject to a legal challenge by the employer. A court subsequently found the action to be illegal. Finnair subsequently paid the union involved 50,000 Euro along with legal costs.
Croatia: Public broadcaster HRT opened legal proceedings against the presidents of its journalists’ trade unions between Christmas Day and New Years’ Eve in 2019, seeking 67,000 Euro in fines.

After a long campaign for action led by the CASE Coalition, of which the ETUC is part, the Anti-SLAPP Directive was today given its final approval by the European Parliament.

It will introduce specific safeguards in court proceedings in order to protect those targeted by abusive lawsuits in cross-border cases and to deter potential claimants from engaging in such practices.

That includes the early dismissal of manifestly unfounded cases and a possibility for SLAPP targets to obtain financial compensation for damages.

The scope of the directive explicitly protects trade unions and the exercise of the right to freedom of association and assembly.

ETUC Deputy General Secretary Isabelle Schömann said:

“Employers and some governments are increasingly using SLAPPs as a tactic to stop workers and their unions speaking out or taking action against poor working conditions and violations of labour rights.

“Today we have taken an important step in the battle against these disgraceful tactics.

“The SLAPPs directive will help to make sure the law is on the side of those who defend democracy and human rights instead of those who can pay for expensive lawyers to cover up their abuses.

“These are however only minimum standards and member states should ensure that those who speak up in the public interest are fully protected against SLAPPs when they put this directive into national legislation.”

The ETUC is the voice of workers and represents 45 million members from 93 trade union organisations in 41 European countries, plus 10 European Trade Union Federations.
The ETUC is also on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.


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