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Dahmane v KRC Genk: A Rough Translation

Dahmane v KRC GENK

Court of Labour of Antwerp (Hasselt district) 6 May 2014

Chamber 2

Algemeen rolnummer 2009/AH/199

 

The Facts 

  • Dahmane signed with KRC GENK on 1 July 2007 for four years (till 30 June 2011). Dahmane unilaterally terminated the contract January 2008. 
  • KRC GENK demanded from Dahmane compensation of EUR 878.888,88 (36 months wages) at the labour court of Tongeren. The demand was based on Article 5 § 2 of the Law for Professional Sportsmen (24 February 1978) and the Royal Decree of 13 July 2004 that Determines the Amount of the Compensation based on the Law for Professional Sportsmen. According to the Royal Decree (of 2004) the compensation had to be equal to 36 months of salary in the case of Dahmane. 
  • Dahmane demanded EUR 250.000,00 from KRC GENK compensation calculated in accordance with the Labour Agreements Law (03 July 1978). D. argued that according to article 40 § 1 of this law, the severance pay can only amount to 12 months of salary.  

  • 25 May 2009 - The Labour Court agreed with the demands of KRC GENK, whereas it disagreed with Dahmane’s. Dahmane placed an appeal. 

  • 22 June 2010 – Court of Labour decided that Dahmane had unlawfully unilaterally terminated the labour contract between him and KRC GENK. Dahmane had to reimburse KRC GENK with a compensation equal to 36 months of salary, because Dahmane fell under the Law regarding Labour Agreements of Professional Sportsmen of 24 February 1978. The Court rejected Dahmane’s request for damages.   

  • The Court of Labour turned to the Belgian Constitutional Court with the preliminary question whether the Law for Professional Sportsmen of 24 February 1978 breaches the Articles 10 and 11 of the Belgian Constitution on Equal Treatment, as there was an inconsistency with the Labour Agreements Law of 03 July 1978 under which the severance pay can only amount to 12 months of salary. Secondly, it was questioned whether the rule in question infringed the freedom of employment.  

  • 18 May 2011 – the Belgian Constitutional Court declared itself incompetent to answer the preliminary questions because the question whether a professional sportsmen falls under either the Law for Professional Sportsmen or the Labour Agreements Law solely depended on Royal Decree on Determining the Amount of the Compensation based on the Law for Professional Sportsmen (13 July 2004). According to Belgian law, the legality of the Royal Decree has to be decided by the Court of Labour itself. 

  • Therefore, the judgment of 6 May 2014 was the second time the Court of Labour dealt with the case regarding the unilateral termination of the player’s contract between Dahmane and KRC GENK. This time it had to decide whether the Royal Decree breached the Belgian Constitution.

 

The Case 

  • The demands by Dahmane:

    • That the Court of Labour rejects the Royal Decree on Determining the Amount of the Compensation based on the Law for Professional Sportsmen (13 July 2004) because it breaches the Belgian Constitution (part II, §1).

    • That the Court of Labour asks the CJEU the preliminary question whether the Royal Decree of 2004 breaches Article 45 TFEU since the free movement of professional sportsmen is unreasonably restricted by the Royal Decree (part II, §1).

 

  • KRC GENK arguments:

    • Football has specific characteristics that can be summarized in:

      • Atypical employment market

      • Atypical professional career (part III.b. §5).

    • That the difference between labour agreements of professional sportsmen on the one hand “normal” labour agreements is based on the “specific character of labour agreements of professional sportsmen en the specific character of sport in general”.

      The “specificity of sport” forms a special statute for sport, whereby common law cannot be applied unabridged (part III.b. §6).

    • Referring to European Case Law, and the Commission’s White book on sport, KRC GENK highlighted that to achieve the objectives inherent to sport, which include avoiding competition distortions and the preservation of the stability of participating sport clubs, certain specifics measures can be taken aimed at guarantying  legal certainty of labour relationships in the sport sector (part III.b. §6).

 

  • The Court's holdings

    • Agreed that sport exhibits certain characteristics that can deviate from other labour relationships between employer and employee, but held that since the Royal Decree in question did not mention the specificity of sport, this exception is inapplicable (part III.b. §5).

    • KRC GENK did not take the economic aspect of sport (e.g. the pursuit of economic profits) into account in its arguments, and the importance of fair competition in this regard. These economic objectives are not exclusive to the sport sector but underlie the market economy in general. Therefore, the Court sees no valid reason as to why a separate Royal Decree is necessary to achieve the objectives of the sport sector when similar objectives are pursued by other economic sectors. In other words, no separate laws should be applicable to sport when it pursues economic objectives (part III.b. §6).

    • As regards KRC GENK’s arguments that for football in particular certain legislative deviations preventing richer clubs from buying all the good players from smaller clubs, thereby distorting competition, are justifiable, the Court found them to be incorrect. Even though football’s transfer system causes movement of footballers to differ from the “normal” functioning of the labour market, in this case it is important to draw a distinction between the buying and selling of players between clubs on the one hand, and the unilateral termination of a player’s contract by either club or player on the other. Yet again the Court saw no reason why the specificity of football should enable the adoption of Royal Decrees breaching article 10 and 11 of the Belgian Constitution (part III.b. §6).

    • The Court took into account that the average career of a professional sportsman is relatively short (12 years according to RKC GENK and six to eight years according to Dahmane). A compensation amounting to 36 months of salary would for many professional sportsmen be equal to 1/3 of total career revenues and is therefore not justified in the present case (part III.b. §7).

    • The Royal Decree applies to professional sports in general, not only to football, KRC GENK’s can therefore not rely on the specificity of football to justify its legality (part III.b. §6 and §7).

    • Given that the Royal Decree is declared contrary to the Constitution, the Court sees no reason to make a preliminary reference to the ECJ (part III.b. §12).

 

Conclusion: the Court considered that a Royal Decree imposing a compensation of 36 months of salary on a player breaching his contract is disproportionate. Furthermore, the Court found the Royal Decree unjustifiable under the Constitutional principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination (part III.b. §8).

 

 

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