Supreme Court (“Cour de cassation”), Social Chamber, Syndicat des producteurs de miel de France v. Syndicat national de l'apiculture et Union nationale de l'apiculture française, 13 January 2009, Appeal No. 07-17.692

Constitution of France

Article 54

If the Constitutional Council, at the request of the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the President of one or the other assembly or by sixty deputies or sixty senators, has declared that an international commitment contains a clause contrary to the Constitution, authorization to ratify or approve the international commitment in question may be given only after amendment of the Constitution.

Article 55

Duly ratified or approved treaties or agreements shall, upon publication, prevail over acts of Parliament, subject, in regard to each agreement or treaty, to its application by the other party.

Freedom of association
Role of International Law:
Use of international law as a guide for interpreting domestic law
Type of instruments used:

Ratified treaty1

Freedom of association/ Conditions for forming a trade union or union of trade unions/ Use of international law as a guide for interpreting domestic law

A trade union of honey producers had brought an action to prevent two other beekeepers’ organizations from presenting themselves as trade unions or unions of trade unions. It claimed that these two professional organizations could not be described as trade unions because their membership did not consist exclusively of persons habitually performing the professional activity of beekeeper as defined in French tax legislation.2 The organizations concerned consisted essentially of “amateur” beekeepers who kept bees as a “hobby” and derived only a secondary or occasional income from it. They had won their case before the appeal court, which had rejected the application for a denial of trade-union status made by the petitioning trade union. The latter had therefore appealed to the Supreme Court. 

To settle this dispute, the Cour de Cassation interpreted Article L. 411-2 of the French Labour Code3 in the light of ILO Convention No. 87. The French Cour de Cassation pointed out that, according to articles 2 and 5 of this Convention, workers and employers, without distinction of any kind, have the right to form organizations of their choice, which in turn are free to form other groupings.

The Court therefore considered that Article L. 411-2 of the French Labour Code, which assumes the existence of paid activities to the exclusion of disinterested or philanthropic activities, should be interpreted as not making any distinction as to whether such activities are exercised exclusively, secondarily or occasionally, nor whether the income deriving from them constitutes a principal or secondary income.

This use of international law as a guide to interpreting domestic law led the Cour de Cassation to decide that all honey producers may form a trade union and any beekeeper who markets his products may be regarded as such, regardless of whether his activity is secondary or occasional. The two defending organizations were therefore acknowledged as having the right to form a trade union or union of unions.     

1 ILO Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, 1948 (No. 87).

2 French tax law makes a distinction between professional beekeepers and non-professional or “amateur” beekeepers. Only beekeepers managing more than ten hives are subject to taxation.

Following a reorganization of the French Labour Code in 2008, this Article L. 411-2 became Article L. 2131-2 of the same Code. 

Full text of the decision