Saint Prix v DWP: pregnancy and right to reside
Jessy Saint Prix v Department for Work and Pensions C-507/12.
The issue in this case is whether a French national who became temporarily unable to work due to pregnancy and childbirth and had no continuing employment rights retained her status as a 'worker' in EU law and therefore her right of residence in the UK when she claimed income support on grounds of pregnancy.
Ms Saint Prix is a French national who came to the UK and worked mainly as a teaching assistant for 11 months, before commencing studies. Later (following time as a student and registering with an employment agency), she did some work in nursery schools. However she stopped that work on the grounds that, being six months pregnant, it was too strenuous for her. Her claim for income support was rejected on the grounds that she had lost her status as a worker and did not have the right to reside. She appealed and the UK Supreme Court made a reference to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Judgment of the European Court of Justice
In its judgment delivered on 19 June 2014 (C-507/12), the ECJ 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’ under EU law.
Specifically, Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, ‘must be interpreted as meaning 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’ (paragraph 46). In order to decide whether that latter period was reasonable, the national court should ‘take account of all the specific circumstances of the case in the main proceedings and the applicable national rules on the duration of maternity leave…’ (paragraph 42).
The retention of worker status in such a case was not because pregnancy and the aftermath of childbirth was equated with incapacity for work due to an illness. The Court noted that it has consistently held that pregnancy must be clearly distinguished from illness (paragraphs 29-30). Rather, it was because the concept of ‘worker’ had to be interpreted broadly, freedom of movement for workers entailed the right of nationals of member states to move freely within the EU and to stay there to seek employment, and that consequently classification as a worker did not necessarily depend on the actual or continuing existence of an employment relationship (paragraphs 33-36). Further, it could not be argued (contrary to the contention of the UK government) that Article 7(3) of EC Directive 2004/38 (the so-called residence directive, which does not refer to pregnancy in this context) contained an exhaustive list of the circumstances in which worker status might be retained (paragraph 37). The Court accepted that a Union citizen would be deterred from exercising her freedom of movement within the Union if having given up work due to pregnancy she risked losing her worker status, and further noted that EU law gave special protection for women in connection with maternity, such as that continuity of residence was not affected, amongst other things, by an absence of up to 12 months for ‘important reasons such as pregnancy and childbirth (paragraphs 44-45).
The case is a very welcome confirmation of the rights of women EU workers who stop work due to pregnancy. It is also worth noting that the Court held that Directive 2004/38/EC was not exhaustive on when worker status was retained – that could allow arguments for other claimants who have stopped work but whose circumstances are not covered in the Directive (or domestic regulations).
Counsel for the appellant is Richard Drabble QC.
The AIRE Centre intervened in the case.