Defrenne -v- Sabena (No 2); ECJ 8-Apr-1976

ECJ The principle that men and women should receive equal pay, which is laid down by article 119, is one of the foundations of the community. It may be relied on before the national courts. These courts have a duty to ensure the protection of the rights which that provision vests in individuals, in particular in the case of those forms of discrimination which have their origin directly in legsilative provisions or collective labour agreements, as well as where men and women receive unequal pay for equal work which is carried out in the same establishment or service, whether private or public.
(A) the application of the principle that men and women should receive equal pay was to have been fully secured by the original member states as from 1 January 1 – language of the case : french. 1962, the end of the first stage of the transitional period. Without prejudice to its possible effects as regards encouraging and accelerating the full implementation of article 119, the resolution of the member states of 31 December 1961 was ineffective to make any valid modification of the time-limit fixed by the treaty. Apart from any specific provisions, the treaty can only be modified by means of the amendment procedure carried out in accordance with article 236. (B) in the absence of transitional provisions, the principle that men and women should receive equal pay has been fully effective in the new member states since the entry into force of the accession treaty, that is, since 1 January 1973. The council directive no 75/117 was incapable of diminishing the effect of article 119 or of modifying its effect in time.
Important considerations of legal certainty affecting all the interests involved, both public and private, make it impossible in principle to reopen the question of pay as regards the past. The direct effect of article 119 cannot be relied on in order to support claims concerning pay periods prior to the date of this judgment, except as regards those workers who have already brought legal proceedings or made an equivalent claim.
Even in the areas in which article 119 has no direct effect, that provision cannot be interpreted as reserving to the national legislature exclusive power to implement the principle of equal pay since, to the extent to which such implementation is necessary, it may be achieved by a combination of community and national provisions.
It is demeaning for a woman air hostess to be told that she cannot continue as cabin crew after the age of 40. The court however limited the effect of its ruling to future breaches.
Europa 1. The principle that men and women should receive equal pay, which is laid down by article 119, is one of the foundations of the community. It may be relied on before the national courts. These courts have a duty to ensure the protection of the rights which that provision vests in individuals, in particular in the case of those forms of discrimination which have their origin directly in legsilative provisions or collective labour agreements, as well as where men and women receive unequal pay for equal work which is carried out in the same establishment or service, whether private or public. 2. ( A ) the application of the principle that men and women should receive equal pay was to have been fully secured by the original member states as from 1 january1 – language of the case: french. 1962, the end of the first stage of the transitional period. Without prejudice to its possible effects as regards encouraging and accelerating the full implementation of article 119, the resolution of the member states of 31 december 1961 was ineffective to make any valid modification of the time-limit fixed by the treaty. Apart from any specific provisions, the treaty can only be modified by means of the amendment procedure carried out in accordance with article 236.
( B ) in the absence of transitional provisions, the principle that men and women should receive equal pay has been fully effective in the new member states since the entry into force of the accession treaty, that is, since 1 january 1973. The council directive no 75/117 was incapable of diminishing the effect of article 119 or of modifying its effect in time. 3. Important considerations of legal certainty affecting all the interests involved, both public and private, make it impossible in principle to reopen the question of pay as regards the past. The direct effect of article 119 cannot be relied on in order to support claims concerning pay periods prior to the date of this judgment, except as regards those workers who have already brought legal proceedings or made an equivalent claim. 4. Even in the areas in which article 119 has no direct effect, that provision cannot be interpreted as reserving to the national legislature exclusive power to implement the principle of equal pay since, to the extent to which such implementation is necessary, it may be achieved by a combination of community and national provisions.

Court: ECJ
Date: 08-Apr-1976
Statutes: Council Directive 75/117/EEC
Links: Bailii, Bailii,
References: C-43/75, [1976] ICR 547, [1976] ICR 547, [1981] 1 All ER 122, R-43/75, [1976] EUECJ R-43/75, [1976] ECR 455, [1976] EUECJ C-43/75
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