In this case workers rights directly related to the powers conferred under a Framework Agreement annexed to Council Directive Directive 1999/70/EC were given new protections in instances where fixed-term employment contracts were no longer seen as helpful but in fact deemed contrary to the security of European citizens.
On this occasion a collective claim was put before the Greek Monomeles Protodikio Thessalonikis (Court of the First Instance) by eighteen publicly employed staff of the Greek Milk Organisation (ELOG), after the firm failed to renew their fixed-term contracts, and although the aim of the Framework Agreement was to reduce inherent abuses found in all forms of employment, it was intended that unless an employer could demonstrate that repeated fix-term employment contracts served both the employer and employee they were to become contracts of ‘indefinite duration’.
While it is agreed under Community law principles that Member States are expected to transpose Directives within a predetermined period, the Greek government applied for a two year extension under para.2 of Directive 1999/70/EC, however it was not fully transposed until April 2003 under the Presidential Decree No.81/2003 (later superseded by Presidential Decree 164/2004).
For clarity, protections for public employees found in the Framework Agreement were presented in such a way as their employers could continue using fixed-term employment contracts for ‘seasonal purposes’, or in times requiring periodic or temporary needs, as explained in art.21 of Law No.2190/1994, while this was further supported by art.5 of Presidential Decree 164/2004, which provided that successive contracts of employment enjoyed by the same workers were prohibited if contract renewal periods were greater than three months.
In this instance the claimants had worked under contracts lasting no more than eight months, while contract renewals ranged between twenty-two days and eleven months, therefore it was argued that cessation of their employment constituted a breach under the terms of the Framework Agreement and Directive 1999/70/EC inasmuch as they had all been employed for fixed and permanent needs as opposed to those described in art.21 of Law No.2190/1994.
When referred to the European Court of Justice under art.234 EC the Court of the First Instance sought a preliminary ruling as to four questions:
1. What was the exact date of effect of Directive 1999/70?
2. What was the definition of ‘objective reasons’ as per clause 5(1)(a) of the Framework Agreement when determining the renewal of fixed-term contracts?
3. What was the practicality of Presidential Decree 81/2003 when interposed with the terms of the Directive?
4. Did the limitations of art.21 of Law No.2190/1994 allow for abuses in contrast to the reductive effects of the Framework Agreement?
Having appreciated the somewhat unnecessary aims of the questions it was ultimately agreed by the European Court of Justice that:
1. The date of effect was that of the publication of the Directive, which was July 1999 and not April 2003.
2. That national legislation cannot overrule the aims of objective reasoning as prescribed within the framework agreement.
3. That clause 5(1)(a) to (c) offered a number of available measures to the Member States in order to reduce contractual abuses.
4. That the same clause again offered sufficient remedies in order to fully support the effects of Directive 1999/70 and the Framework Agreement.
Therefore the Court upheld the claim while reminding the parties that:
“[F]rom the date upon which a Directive has entered into force, the courts of the Member States must refrain as far as possible from interpreting domestic law in a manner which might seriously compromise, after the period for transposition has expired, attainment of the objective pursued by that Directive.”