YT and Others v. Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca – MIUR, Case C-282/19 (Seconda Section), 13 January 2022
In its judgment of 13 January 2022 in Case C-282/19, the Court of Justice ruled on the succession of fixed-term contracts for Catholic religious education teachers in Italy.
The principal applicants, noting that they could not benefit from the stabilization clause provided by Italian law to teaching staff because of the one-year duration of their posts, brought an action for conversion of their current contracts into contracts of indefinite duration.
Hence, the Italian court referred the matter to the Court for a preliminary ruling on the compatibility of the Italian legislation with Directive 1999/70/EC - Framework Agreement on fixed-term work concluded by ETUC, UNICE and CEEP, and with the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion under Article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The Court ruled out discrimination on the grounds of religion since the applicants were unable to take up their posts because of the duration of their assignments, without any connection to their religion.
For the European Courts, this does not fall within the scope of clause 4 of Directive 1999/70/EC - Framework Agreement on fixed-term work concluded by ETUC, UNICE and CEEP, since the applicants could not benefit from the conversion of their contract into a contract of indefinite duration unlike teachers of other subjects, thus constituting a difference in treatment between two categories of workers. It follows that the referring court cannot disapply the national rules on the basis of that clause.
Next, as regards clause 5 of the Framework Agreement, the Court holds that that provision precludes national legislation which excludes Catholic religious education teachers from the application of the rules penalizing the abusive use of successive fixed-term contracts if there is no other effective measure in the domestic legal system to penalize that abusive use, which is a matter for the referring court to assess.
Compliance with that provision requires to be ascertained in practice that the renewal of such contracts is intended to meet temporary needs and that that possibility is not used to meet the permanent needs of the employer.
In the present case, the various fixed-term contracts linking the applicants to the Ministry have given rise to the performance of similar tasks for several years, so it may be considered that those employment relationships have satisfied a permanent need.
Furthermore, noting that the qualification which Catholic religious education teachers must have in order to teach is awarded only once, and not before each school year in which a fixed-term employment contract is concluded, the Court holds that that qualification does not constitute an objective reason justifying the renewal of fixed-term contracts within the meaning of Article 5 of Directive 1999/70/EC - ETUC, UNICE and CEEP Framework Agreement on fixed-term work.
Finally, the Court points out that, although that clause has no direct effect, the referring court must ascertain whether an interpretation of the national provisions in conformity with the Framework Agreement is possible.
(Comment by Alessandro Cupri)