Key facts of the case:
Reference for a preliminary ruling — Social policy — Fixed-term employment — Directive 1999/70/EC — Framework agreement on fixed-term work concluded by ETUC, UNICE and CEEP — Principle of non-discrimination against fixed-term workers — Entitlement of the worker to compensation on termination of the employment contract — Fixed-term employment contract in the form of a relief contract — Difference in treatment in relation to permanent workers.
Outcome of the case:
In the light of the above considerations, I propose that the Court answer the request for a preliminary ruling from the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Galicia (Spain) as follows:
Clause 4(1) of the framework agreement on fixed-term work in the Annex to Directive 1999/70/EC is to be interpreted as meaning that it does not constitute discrimination against fixed-term workers if, on the expiry of their employment contracts because the term agreed has been reached, the agreed task has been completed or the agreed event has occurred, they are not entitled to compensation or are entitled to a lesser amount of compensation than workers whose employment contracts, whether for a fixed period or for an indefinite period, are terminated on dismissal by the employer on objective grounds.
26) By order of 7 November 2016, received on 14 November 2016, the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Galicia (Spain) referred the following questions to the Court for a preliminary ruling pursuant to Article 267 TFEU:
‘(1) For the purposes of the principle of equivalence between workers with fixed-term contracts and those with contracts of indefinite duration, must ending of the employment contract due to “objective circumstances” under Article 49(1)(c) of the Workers’ Statute and its ending on“objective grounds” under Article 52 of the Workers’ Statute be regarded as “comparable situations” and does, therefore, the difference between the compensation payable in either case constitute unequal treatment between workers with fixed-term contracts and those with contracts of indefinite duration, prohibited by Directive 1999/70/EC?
(2) If so, must the social-policy objectives legitimising the creation of the “contrato de relevo” model of contract also be deemed to justify, under clause 4.1 of the Framework Agreement on fixed-term work, the difference in treatment relating to the lower amount of compensation for termination of the employment relationship when the employer freely decides that such a “contrato de relevo” should be for a fixed term?
(3) For the purposes of guaranteeing the practical effect of Directive 1999/70/EC, if there should be found to be no reasonable justification under clause 4.1, is the unequal treatment of temporary and permanent employees with regard to compensation for termination of their contracts, laid down in the Spanish legislation referred to above, to be interpreted as constituting discrimination of the kind prohibited by Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and therefore as contrary to the principles of equal treatment and non-discrimination that are part of the general principles of EU law?’
76) By this question, the referring court is essentially seeking to ascertain whether it infringes Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the general principles of equal treatment and non-discrimination in EU law if the amount of compensation to be paid by the employer under Spanish law on termination of an employment contract is different depending on whether termination stems from dismissal on objective grounds or the expiry of a fixed-term employment contract.
81) The general EU law principle of equal treatment, which has now also been established in Articles 20 and 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, requires, according to settled case-law, that comparable situations must not be treated differently and different situations must not be treated in the same way unless such treatment is objectively justified. ( 56 )
82) There is no need in this case to answer the contentious question whether this general legal principle or the abovementioned provisions of the Charter have direct effects in a dispute between a worker and his private-sector employer — in a horizontal legal relationship — ( 57 ) as, substantively, the general EU law principle of equal treatment cannot lead to a different conclusion in this regard from the special principle of non-discrimination in clause 4(1) of the Framework Agreement (see also Article 52(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights).
84. Accordingly, the general principle of equal treatment and Articles 20 and 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights also cannot require that the statutory entitlement to compensation for the workers concerned must be the same amount in both cases. The third question, if it is relevant, should therefore be answered in the negative.