In the News

What impact will the proposed anti-strike legislation have on workers Human Rights?

Gemma Shepherd-Etchells

5th February 2023

Originally the brainchild of former Business Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg under the short-lived Truss administration, anti-strike legislation is now being proposed by Rishi Sunak. Striking a balance between the right to strike and the disruption of services which have been crippling the county, Rishi Sunak has stated that this will ensure minimum service levels are maintained.

Originally only proposed for the emergency services to ensure there is no threat to life, this has now been extended to encompass key public sector workers such as teachers and those within rail networks and nuclear services. If minimum levels are not maintained firms could sue unions or have injunctions taken out against them, and staff could be terminated. Whilst trying to deal with the frustrations to everyday life which recent strikes have brought about, these proposed changes could actually inflame the situation, rather than dealing with the root cause, which many support. This could in turn lead to further strikes and also working to rule, where overtime is not taken up and staffing levels cannot be maintained, even without strikes.

There is a concern that these laws are attacking unions and diluting their right to provide collective representation and the freedom of workers to strike. Employees (apart from the police and those in the prison service) have a right to strike enshrined in law in the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992. If there is a trade dispute, there has been a ballot and notice and the strike does not encompass anything illegal, such as illegal picketing, then there is a legal right for workers to withhold their labour in protest.

Seen as an attack on democracy the leader of the Opposition (Labour), Keir Starmer has already committed to repealing anti-trade union legislation. There could also be challenges under the European Convention on Human Rights under freedom of association (Article 10) rules. Post Brexit rules with the EU also protect union activity through the implementation of the International Organisation Convention and this proposed legislation could also be in breach of this.

Discussion Point:

  • Do you think that these proposed laws should be enacted? Will it help or hamper the situation?
  • How important are trade union laws which protect rights to provide collective representation and for workers to withhold their labour?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks to these proposed laws?

Gemma Shepherd-Etchells

Gemma is an experienced Law teacher and examiner.

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