Im Zuge eines Arbeitskonflikts in Barcelona wurde in einem Gewerkschafts-Newsletter ein Cartoon veröffentlicht, der sich nicht nur gegen die Unternehmensleitung, sondern vor allem auch gegen andere Mitarbeiter richtete, die nach Auffassung der Gewerkschaft ihre Kollegen durch arbeitgeberfreundliche Zeugenaussagen "verraten" hatten.
"On the cover of the newsletter, a cartoon with speech bubbles* showed a caricature of the human resources manager, G., sitting behind a desk under which a person on all fours could be seen from behind, together with, to one side, A. and B., also employees of the company P. and representatives of a committee of its non-salaried delivery workers, who were watching the scene while waiting to take their turn to satisfy the manager. Inside the newsletter were two articles which vehemently denounced the fact that those two individuals had testified in favour of the company P. in proceedings that the applicants had brought against their employer."
*) "The accompanying speech bubbles were sufficiently explicit." heißt es and anderer Stelle des Urteils (Nr. 67)Auch zwei weitere Artikel zeichneten sich nicht gerade durch subitle Kritik oder dezente Wortwahl aus (mehr kann man im Urteil nachlesen). Aufgrund dieses Newsletters wurden dieBeschwerdeführer wegen groben Fehlverhaltens entlassen und wandten sich - nach für sie erfolglosen innerstaatlichen gerichtlichen Verfahren - an den EGMR. Dieser kam in der Kammerentscheidung vom 8.12.2009, Aguilera Jimenez and others, mit einer (vorsichtigen) Gegenstimme zum Ergebnis, dass keine Verletzung des Art 10 EMRK festzustellen war.
Auch die Große Kammer kam nun mehrheitlich - gegen die Stimmen der Richter Tulkens (Belgien), Björgvinsson (Island), Jočienė (Litauen), Popović (Serbien), und Vučinić (Montenegro) - zur selben Auffassung wie zuvor die Dritte Kammer.
Der EGMR geht zunächst auf eine Empfehlung und einen Bericht der Internationalen Arbeitsorganisation und auch auf eine Advisory Opinion des Inter-American Court of Human Rights ein; der darauf folgende kurze rechtsvergleichende Exkurs zur Disziplinargewalt von Arbeitgebern endet mit der wenig überraschenden Betonung einer notwendigen Einzelfallbetrachtung: "Only through a case-by-case approach is it possible to grasp the substance of the jurisprudential solution adopted in each type of situation."
In der rechtlichen Beurteilung betont der EGMR die Bedeutung der Meinungsäußerungsfreiheit für Gewerkschaften, kommt aber im Rahmen der Abwägung schließlich zum Ergebnis, dass jedenfalls ein schwer beleidigender Angriff auf die Ehre von Mitarbeitern oder Vorgesetzten auch die schwere Sanktion der Entlassung rechtfertigen kann. Besonders deutlich macht der EGMR auch in diesem Urteil wieder (insbesondere in Nr. 74), dass er von den nationalen Gerichten eine nachvollziehbare Abwägung aller betroffenen Grundrechtspositionen und eine Auseinandersetzung mit seiner Rechtsprechung erwartet; dann - und wohl nur dann - ist er bereit, den stets bekundeten "certain margin of appreciation" der Konventionsstaaten auch wirklich zu akzeptieren. Aus dem Urteil:
"56. The Court takes the view that the members of a trade union must be able to express to their employer their demands by which they seek to improve the situation of workers in their company. [...] A trade union that does not have the possibility of expressing its ideas freely in this connection would indeed be deprived of an essential means of action. Consequently, for the purpose of guaranteeing the meaningful and effective nature of trade union rights, the national authorities must ensure that disproportionate penalties do not dissuade trade union representatives from seeking to express and defend their members’ interests. [...]Die abweichende Meinung kritisiert vor allem, dass die Mehrheit die gewerkschaftliche Dimension des Falles weitgehend außer Acht lässt. Der Gewerkscahft komme ein ähnliche "watchdog-Funktion" zu wie der Presse oder Umweltschautzorganisationen. Aus der abweichenden Meinung:
60. In the present case, the measure complained of by the applicants, namely their dismissal, was not taken by a State authority but by a private company. Following the publication of the trade-union newsletter of March 2002 and the expressions contained therein, the disciplinary measure of dismissal for serious misconduct was taken against the applicants by their employer [...] and confirmed by the domestic courts. The applicants’ dismissal was not the result of direct intervention by the national authorities. The responsibility of the authorities would nevertheless be engaged if the facts complained of stemmed from a failure on their part to secure to the applicants the enjoyment of the right enshrined in Article 10 of the Convention [...].
63. [...] the principal question in the present case is whether the respondent State was required to guarantee respect for the applicants’ freedom of expression by annulling their dismissal. The Court’s task is therefore to determine whether, in the light of the case as a whole, the sanction imposed on the applicants was proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and whether the reasons given by the national authorities to justify it were “relevant and sufficient” [...]
64. The Court observes that the domestic courts examined whether the fundamental rights relied upon by the applicants had been breached; if there had been a breach, their dismissals would have been declared null and void. [...]
65. Moreover, the domestic courts referred to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression in the context of labour relations and noted that this right was not unlimited; the specific features of labour relations had to be taken into account. [...]
67. [...] The accusations were expressed in vexatious and injurious terms for the persons concerned. The Court reiterates that a clear distinction must be made between criticism and insult and that the latter may, in principle, justify sanctions [...]
71. [...] The cartoon and articles were thus published in the newsletter of the trade-union workplace branch to which the applicants belonged, in the context of a dispute between the applicants and the company P. Nevertheless, they did contain criticism and accusations, not directly against the company but against the two non-salaried deliverymen and the human resources manager. The Court reiterates in this connection that the extent of acceptable criticism is narrower as regards private individuals than as regards politicians or civil servants acting in the exercise of their duties [...]
72. The Court does not share the Government’s view that the content of the impugned articles did not concern any matter of general interest [...]. The debate was therefore not a purely private one; it was at least a matter of general interest for the workers of the company P. [...]
73. That being said, the existence of such a matter cannot justify the use of offensive cartoons or expressions, even in the context of labour relations [...]
74. The domestic courts took all these factors into account in dealing with the action brought by the applicants. They carried out an in-depth examination of the circumstances of the case and a detailed balancing of the competing interests at stake, taking into account the limits of the right to freedom of expression and the reciprocal rights and obligations specific to employment contracts and the professional environment. [...] In the Court’s opinion, the conclusions reached by the domestic courts cannot be regarded as unreasonable. In this connection, it notes that, in addition to being insulting, the cartoon and texts in issue were intended more as an attack on colleagues for testifying before the courts than as a means of promoting trade union action vis-à-vis the employer. [...]
76. The Court observes that, in order to be fruitful, labour relations must be based on mutual trust. As the Employment Tribunal rightly found, even if the requirement to act in good faith in the context of an employment contract does not imply an absolute duty of loyalty towards the employer or a duty of discretion to the point of subjecting the worker to the employer’s interests, certain manifestations of the right to freedom of expression that may be legitimate in other contexts are not legitimate in that of labour relations [...]. Moreover, an attack on the respectability of individuals by using grossly insulting or offensive expressions in the professional environment is, on account of its disruptive effects, a particularly serious form of misconduct capable of justifying severe sanctions.
77. This leads the Court to find that, in the particular circumstances of the present case, the measure of dismissal taken against the applicants was not a manifestly disproportionate or excessive sanction capable of requiring the State to afford redress by annulling it or by replacing it with a more lenient measure."
"Both in assessing the facts and in balancing the interests at stake, the majority give scant consideration to the fact that the applicants were members of a trade union, or that they were expressing professional and employment-related claims. [...]Update 14.09.2011: eine lesenswerte Auseinandersetzung mit dem Urteil findet sich heute auf dem Strasbourg Observers Blog ("a retrograde step in terms of freedom of expression generally"; "... the Court seemed to approve the principle that trade unions cannot engage in offensive and insulting speech, a dangerous proposition which will chill the speech of unions generally.")
Admittedly, there has not yet been any specific Convention case-law associating trade union freedom, in terms of 'a right, in order to protect [its members’] interests, that the trade union should be heard', with freedom of expression. We believe, however, that the case-law applicable to freedom of expression in a media context may be applied, mutatis mutandis and with all the necessary precautions, to cases like the present one. A function similar to the 'watchdog' role of the press is performed by a trade union, which acts on behalf of the company’s workers to protect their occupational and employment-related interests. [...]
As regards the cartoon on the newsletter’s cover, it is a caricature, which, whilst being vulgar and tasteless in nature, should be taken for what it is – a satirical representation. In other cases the Court has recognised the satirical nature of an expression, publication or caricature. In refusing to take that nature into account in the present case, the judgment gives the curious impression of placing trade union freedom of expression at a lower level than that of artistic freedom and of treating it more restrictively.
12. Moreover, as to the content of the impugned texts, which are unquestionably crude and vulgar, it must be assessed in relation to the ongoing industrial dispute in the company. The harsh criticism did not relate to the intimacy of the individuals or to other rights pertaining to their private lives. It was directed exclusively at the role of certain colleagues in the industrial dispute and their professional attitude in the legal debate over the recognition of rights afforded by law to workers. It was in fact mainly for the promotion and protection of those rights that the trade union had been created. [...]
17. The imposition of such a harsh sanction on trade union members, who were acting in their own names but also to defend the interests of other workers, is likely to have, generally speaking, a 'chilling effect' on the conduct of trade unionists and to encroach directly upon the raison d’être of a trade union [...].
18. Lastly, the majority boldly assert that certain manifestations of the right to freedom of expression that may be legitimate in other contexts are not legitimate in that of labour relations. They continue as follows: 'Moreover, an attack on the respectability of individuals by using grossly insulting or offensive expressions in the professional environment is, on account of its disruptive effects, a particularly serious form of misconduct capable of justifying severe sanctions. [...]' (see paragraphs 76 and 77 of the judgment). We are puzzled by such an assertion. Firstly, the argument of possible disruption in the workplace is one that has been traditionally used in order to justify greater protection of freedom of expression and not less protection. [...] Furthermore, the Court once again overlooks the social dimension of the situation in adopting this singular position, which appears to us to be detached from the reality of the case. The applicants’ summary and final dismissal for serious misconduct quite simply deprived them of their livelihood. In terms of proportionality, is it really reasonable today, with the widespread employment crisis affecting numerous countries and in terms of social peace, to compare the potentially disruptive effects of the impugned texts in the workplace with a measure of final dismissal, and thus increased job insecurity for the workers? We do not think so."
Update 08.10.2011: der ursprüngliche Cartoon ist hier zu sehen!