EU dispatch: ICC legal defence staff launching historic strike over labour rights, pay disparity Dispatches
© JURIST / Ciara Dinneny
EU dispatch: ICC legal defence staff launching historic strike over labour rights, pay disparity

Law students from the European Union are reporting for JURIST on law-related events in and affecting the European Union and its member states. Ciara Dinneny is a trainee with the Law Society of Ireland. She files this dispatch from Dublin. 

Two defence teams at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague filed a motion Thursday seeking an adjournment of hearings next week in anticipation of a historic industrial action. 

Informed sources within the ICC tell JURIST that on Monday the 5th of December, ICC legal defence support staff will go on strike and engage in a demonstration before the ICC and the Assembly of State Parties (ASP) demanding that they be provided with basic labour and human rights that are available to court staff and other persons working within the Dutch labour market. ICC defence staff members are young lawyers acting as legal assistants and case managers. ICC defence teams also include lead counsel. Defence teams are made up of 2/3 support staff; over 30 lawyers are expected to be involved in this labour action. The vast majority are women. 

Defence support staff have significantly fewer rights and lower wages than their counterparts in the Office of the Prosecution (OTP). They lack basic labour rights, having no contract, no job termination period, no sick leave, no vacation pay, and no parental pay. Additionally, their salaries have not been adjusted since 2013, despite the current 14% inflation rate in the Netherlands. Staff members of the Court can avail of tax exemption, but such exemption is not available to the defence support staff. The current tax rate imposed on defence support members is significantly higher than what was agreed upon at the 2012 ASP and the defence support staff cannot avail of any benefits from taxation as they are excluded from social benefits that are available to ordinary Dutch citizens and residents. As a result, their wages are on average 30% lower than their OTP counterparts. While in the upcoming ASP all staff salaries are expected to be raised by 8% in order to address inflation rates, the Court administration has made it clear that no measure will be on the ASP’s table this year to increase defence support staff salaries or address their lack of basic labour rights.  

On 23 November 2022, the defence support teams began wearing burgundy ribbons in the vicinity of the Court, including in Court hearings. The colour represents the colour on their badges and the ribbons are cut unevenly to represent their unequal treatment. Despite initially having been allowed to wear these ribbons for a week, the defence staff were formally told by the Court that they could no longer wear these ribbons in Court hearings. 

Defence support staff say that their working conditions have implications for the fair trial rights of defendants before the ICC, as lower retention rates in defence teams have resulted in experienced staff members leaving the teams. The teams then lose the wealth of knowledge that such individuals would have, which has significant ramifications during the course of an ongoing trial which often involves tens of thousands of items of evidence. 

Over several years the defence support staff have written to the administration of the Court asking to be provided with basic labour rights and equality of treatment, to no avail. Following the Court and the ASP’s inaction, the support staff have resolved to go on strike next week. The strike will take place over five days for the duration of the ASP, from the 5th of December until the 9th of December. Defense staff say their action is a last resort to have their concerns addressed.