The European Social Charter’s control mechanism for labour and social rights is forging ahead

Today, the Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter (revised) came into force in Spain to establish an avenue to lodge collective complaints with the European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe. This brings to an end the provisional application  of this protocol that Spain has been implementing since 1 July 2021. Nevertheless, such provisional status was no obstacle for the first collective complaints that was brought against Spain last March, on the grounds of the lack of electricity supply affecting many residents of the Cañada Real Galiana neighbourhoods of Madrid

As previously discussed, the Revised European Social Charter (the Charter) is the most comprehensive international treaty regarding labour and social human rights. The 31 rights provided by the Charter include the right to work, to just conditions of work, to bargain collectively, to health, to social security, to social welfare, to be protected against poverty and social exclusion, and to housing. It also has articles specifically dedicated to protecting the legal status of the child and people with disabilities. Since in July 2021 the Charter came into force in Spain, the rights contained therein have been applicable to the administrations of the Basque Autonomous Community, which are required to comply with their content.

The system of collective complaints that just came into force constitutes the final push for the effective enforcement of the rights guaranteed by the Charter. Trade unions, business organisations and NGOs (national and international) are entitled to lodge collective complaints with the European Committee of Social Rights against Spain for violations of the Charter rights.

The recent decision of the European Committee of Social Rights in the case of the aforementioned case of the Cañada Real Galiana of Madrid demonstrates the effective potential of collective complaints, as it calls on Spain to immediately re-establish the electricity supply to avoid serious and irreparable injury to the integrity of the people living in that neighbourhood of Madrid. The Committee has argued that “immediate measures” are needed to guarantee access to electricity and heating, in particular taking into account the needs of vulnerable groups concerned and to offer appropriate alternative accommodation, where it is not possible to safely ensure such access. The Committee is monitoring the situation and has called on Spain to inform the Committee by 15 December of the measures foreseen to implement these measures.   

The decision was issued as part of the Committee’s declaration of admissibility of the first collective complaint brought against Spain by five complainant organisations. The complaint argues that Spain has not ensured the satisfactory application of up to ten Charter rights, including the right to housing; to health; social, legal and economic protection of children and young persons; social protection of elderly persons; and, to independence, social integration and participation in the life of the community of persons with disabilities; the above read alone and in conjunction with the provision against discrimination.  

Thus, the system of collective complaints will definitely strengthen the monitoring of the State’s implementation of the Charter rights, which was previously left to the European Committee of Social Rights’ periodic reports to assess whether national legislation and policies are in compliance with Charter rights. A new ad hoc reporting process has been recently added to the monitoring system, with the aim to address critical or emerging issues, among other changes.