Entities to which International Guarantees Apply

Karakurt v Austria (decision), 14 September 1999 [ECtHR]


Case no 32441/96

The applicant complains that the annulment of his election to the works council amounted to a breach of his right to freedom of association with others. (...) 
In the present case, the Linz Regional Court, as confirmed by the Linz Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, annulled the applicant's election to the works council of a Linz association for lack of eligibility to stand for such elections under the Industrial Relations Act. In accordance with the relevant provisions of the Industrial Relations Act, in particular its sections 38 and 89 to 93, the works council is, at a work place with a minimum size of staff, one of the representative bodies promoting the interests of the staff there. Members of a works council are elected by the staff in accordance with the procedure laid down in the relevant statutory provisions.

In its Chassagnou v. France judgment, the Court held that “freedom of thought and opinion and freedom of expression, guaranteed by Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention respectively, would be of very limited scope if they were not accompanied by a guarantee of being able to share one's beliefs or ideas in community with others, particularly through associations of individuals having the same beliefs, ideas or interests. The term 'association' therefore possesses an autonomous meaning; the classification in national law has only relative value and constitutes no more than a starting-point” (see the Chassagnou v. France judgment of 29 April 1999, Reports 1999, § 100; see also the Le Compte, van Leuven and De Meyere v. Belgium judgment of 23 June 1981, Series A no. 43, pp. 26-27, §§ 64-66, and the Sigurður A. Sigurjónsson v. Iceland judgment of 30 June 1993, Series A no. 264, pp. 15-16, § 35).
In the Austrian legal system, works councils are bodies established under the statutory provisions of the Industrial Relations Act. The Court notes the findings of the Supreme Court in its decision of 21 December 1995, according to which a works council is not regarded as an association under Austrian law.

The Court considers that works councils not only owe their existence to the will of parliament, but are also set up in accordance with the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act. Thus, a works council is only envisaged for a work place with five or more employees. The number of members of the works council is fixed in relation to the number of staff, and in case of a small number of staff, it consists of one person only. The staff, i.e. the body of persons employed at a work place which is not in itself an association, elect the members of their works council for the purpose of exercising, like the other representative bodies established under the Industrial Relations Act, the functions of staff participation at work. In these circumstances, a works council cannot be considered as an “association” within the meaning of Article 11 § 1 of the Convention.

Furthermore, there is nothing to show that the statutory provisions as applied in the present case otherwise interfered with the applicant's rights under Article 11 § 1 of the Convention. In particular, it does not follow from the applicant's submissions that the rules on the organisation of works councils, including the eligibility to stand for election, interfered with the lawful exercise of freedom of association with regard to trade unions. In this respect, the Court observes, having regard to a previous decision of the European Commission of Human Rights referred to by the applicant in support of his application (Application no. 4125/69, X v. Ireland, decision of 1 February 1971, Collection of decisions no. 37, pp. 42 seq., pp. 49-50), that the circumstances of the applicant in the present case cannot be compared to actions intended to bring about the relinquishment by an employee of the office of shop steward for a particular trade union.
It follows that the application is manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention.

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