Trade union rights for civil servants, police and military personell

If civil servants and public service workers in the Nordic countries, Belgium and the Netherlands can organise, negotiate and take collective action, why not in the Baltic states, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria or Turkey? If the police services in Scandinavia can organise, negotiate and take collective action, then why not in Ireland and Malta? And if military personnel in the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, Belgium and even Hungary, among others, can organise, negotiate and take collective action, why not in the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Spain and Portugal?


New report on violations of trade union rights

1st of July the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), the European Confederation of Police (EuroCOP) and the European Organisation of Military Associations and Trade Unions (EUROMIL) submitted a report on violations of trade union rights to the Council of Europe’s European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR). Together these trade union federations represent millions of public workers, such as nurses, social carers, prison, probation officers, firefighters, police officers, soldiers, tax, labour inspectors. The three federations are co-operating in a two-year, European Commission-funded project on trade union rights.


Trade union rights for all

The denial of trade union rights to large numbers of public service workers – particularly uniformed workers – sets a dangerous precedent that can be used to restrict rights where they already exist or deny rights where they might be claimed.


In general Nordic countries are best - Turkey is worst

In general, the Nordic countries provide some of the best examples of where the broadest rights to organise, negotiate and take collective action are applied across the public services, and more generally across Western Europe those rights are probably better developed and protected than in some Central and Eastern European countries. Looking to the northern part of Europe, we see for example that Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland all grant full trade union rights even to their military personnel.


In Hungary there are major restrictions on the right to organise and the right to enter into full collective negotiations in the public sector and there are concerns about the situations in Poland, Albania and Bulgaria, for example, where the right to organise, the right to collective bargaining and the right to collective action is either not guaranteed or subjected to major limitations. Turkey remains the country where public sector workers face the most restrictions and bans on these basic rights.


The right to organise is limited, especially for military staff

Although there are some restrictions in a minority of countries, the right to organise is guaranteed for civil servants in most of the 32 countries in the study. This right guaranteed to a lesser extent for police officers and much less for military staff, with around half of the 32, denying the right to organise to the latter.


As far as the right to organise is concerned: Albania, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey should be looked at with major concern with regard to police officers. The right to organise seems to be very limited.


For military staff the group of countries becomes even larger: it also includes the Albania, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic (including the Security and Intelligence Service), Estonia, France, Ireland, Latvia (including state security institutions), Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Spain and Turkey.


The right to collective bargaining

Common to the development of civil services across much of Western European was the idea that civil servants should not enter into contractual relations with the state (or public services). A consequence of this is that collectively binding agreements were not considered to fit in the legal framework of civil servants. However, this approach has changed in many countries as the status of civil servants has developed, along with the introduction of real collective bargaining agreements, and in some countries for police officers and military staff as well.


With regard to the right to collective bargaining, it seems worth to mention that concerns exist about Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Turkey. Specifically for military staff specific concerns exist for Lithuania, Portugal, Poland Slovenia and Turkey.


The right to collective action

The right to collective action is the most difficult one to assess as many countries still limit this right for civil servants either directly or by listing a large number of minimal services. The right to strike is guaranteed for civil servants in most of the 32 countries covered by the report (with or without restrictions such as for example a guaranteed minimum service provision). This right is much less widely guaranteed for police officers and military staff. Only North Macedonia and Sweden allow for some form of industrial action by military personnel.


Most worrying situation in Albania, Poland, Hungary and Turkey

In general, one could conclude that the most worrying situations are to be found in Albania, Poland, Hungary and Turkey which does not mean that violations of basic rights are not taking place elsewhere.



Source: Trade union rights in the public services : a report to the European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe