Multiple short-term job contracts are within EU law: court
(LUXEMBOURG) - Europe's highest court ruled Thursday that employers can keep staff on successive short-term contracts in a preliminary ruling issued amid a planned shake-up of labour markets across the eurozone.
"The renewal of fixed-term employment contracts may be justified by replacement needs, even where that need is recurring or even permanent," judges ruled at the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice.
"The mere fact that an employer may have to employ temporary replacements on a recurring, or even permanent, basis and that those replacements may also be covered by the hiring of employees under employment contracts of indefinite duration, does not mean that there is no objective reason or that there is abuse," they said.
The case was referred to Luxembourg by a German court looking into a complaint by a civil servant, regional German court clerk Bianca Kucuk, about her employment terms after being placed on 13 successive fixed-term contracts in 11 years.
She argued that the last of those contracts had become one "of indefinite duration in the absence of any objective reason justifying its being limited in time."
European Union law "is based on the premise that contracts of indefinite duration are the general form of employment relationship" and that governments must adopt measures to prevent "abuse" of successive fixed-term employment contracts.
However, they said the key is to supply "objective reasons" for such renewals, such as replacing permanent contract-holders on parental leave, rather than transferring staff onto permanent contracts.
"Temporary replacement" under German law is considered just such an "objective reason," they ruled.
In individual cases where abuse is alleged, adjudicators could nevertheless take into account the "number and cumulative duration" of such contracts.
The court specified that it "does not decide the dispute itself," and that its opinion is offered in order to help the national court or tribunal reach a "binding" decision in its jurisdiction.