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CJEU Judgment in Saint Prix

19 June 2014

Intervention by AIRE and Comment on Decision

On 19th June 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered judgment in the case of Jessy Saint Prix, which concerns the position of EU citizens who temporarily stop working in the late stages of pregnancy in order to have their baby. In particular, the issue for Ms. Saint Prix was whether she remained a ‘worker’ under EU law during that period and, as such, whether she should have been entitled to receive Income Support (in the same way that UK authorities apply to pregnant British citizens).

 In the United Kingdom, income support is a benefit which may be granted to certain categories of people whose income does not exceed a defined amount. Women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth may be eligible for that benefit, in particular during the period surrounding childbirth. However, ‘people from abroad’ (that is, people who do not habitually reside in the UK) are not entitled to that benefit, unless they have acquired the status of worker within the meaning of the EC Directive 2004/38 on the right of free movement and residence of Union citizens.

At nearly six months’ pregnant, after working as a teaching assistant in the UK for eighteen months, Ms Saint Prix stopped work because of the demands of caring for young children. Three months after the birth of her child, Ms Saint Prix resumed work but her claim for income support in the intervening period was refused by the UK authorities on the grounds that she had lost her status as a worker.

The AIRE Centre intervened in the case, with the expert and brilliant pro bono representation of Jemima Stratford QC and the team at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, led by Deba Das. We are delighted to confirm that the judgment of the CJEU adopts the fundamental approach advocated for by Ms Saint Prix and her legal representatives, the EU Commission and the AIRE Centre.

In essence, the Court found that:

  • A woman who gives up work, or seeking work, because of the physical constraints of the late stages of pregnancy and the aftermath of childbirth retains the status of ‘worker’, within the meaning of that article, provided she returns to work or finds another job within a reasonable period after the birth of her child. Further, in order to determine whether the period that has elapsed between childbirth and starting work again might be regarded as reasonable, national courts should take account of all the specific circumstances of the case and any national rules on the duration of maternity leave;
  •  Neither Article 7 of EC Directive 2004/38, or the other provisions of the Directive, can systematically deprive EU citizens of the status of ‘worker’, within the broad meaning of Article 45 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU);
  •  The broad definition of ‘worker’ under Article 45 TFEU, and the rights deriving from such status, do not necessarily depend on the actual or continuing existence of an employment relationship;

The AIRE Centre is particularly pleased that this judgment should conclusively ensure that pregnant women are no longer discriminated against, or deprived of the basic protection to which they are entitled, in the exercise of their freedom of movement as EU workers. We further welcome the Court’s clear and unequivocal reaffirmation of the primacy of the TFEU and the dynamism of the concept of ‘worker’ status for all EU citizens. In support of this reasoning, the Court noted that an EU citizen who no longer pursues an activity can still retain the status of worker in specific cases (temporarily unable to work, involuntary unemployment or vocational training)

 The AIRE Centre would not have been able to send our legal team to the hearing in Luxembourg without the funding and support of the Strategic Legal Fund for Vulnerable Young Migrants (formerly for Refugee Children and Young People). We would also like to reiterate our sincere thanks to Jemima Stratford QC, Deba Das and the whole team at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for their central role in litigating the AIRE Centre’s intervention.

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