The European Commission is referring Estonia to the EU Court of Justice over its national law which does not provide sufficient protection against abuse arising from the use of successive fixed-term employment contracts or relationships in the academic sector. Estonian law limits successive fixed-term employment to 5 years. If this limit is reached, the fixed-term employment is converted to a permanent contract. However, the limit only applies to fixed-term contracts concluded with less than 2 months between the contracts.
In accordance with the case law of the Court of Justice, the specific context of the sector has to be taken into account in the assessment of whether a particular definition of ‘successive’ fixed-term employment provides effective protection as required by the Fixed-Term Work Directive.
The academic sector is characterised by long closures over the summer period. In Estonia, the academic year ends in the first half of June and begins in September, meaning that it is possible for universities to employ teachers indefinitely on fixed-term contracts covering the academic year, by interrupting the employment contract over the summer closure period. This does not provide effective protection against abuse arising from successive fixed-term employment.
The Commission sent Estonia a reasoned opinion in October 2012, giving Estonia 2 months to comply with EU rules but Estonia has not adapted its national law to guarantee sufficient protection against abuse arising from the use of successive fixed-term employment contracts or relationships in the academic sector. The Commission therefore decided to refer Estonia to the EU Court of Justice.