The Strikes Bill – a Breach of Article 11?
The Government has recently proposed controversial “anti-strike” legislation to reduce the impact of industrial action. The law, which will mandate how many people must stay in the post during a strike, has been opposed by many amongst growing concerns that the bill may be in breach of Human Rights legislation.
Business Secretary Grant Shapps introducing the bill in Parliament, said “Whilst we absolutely believe in the right to strike, we are duty bound to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British people” with Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak adding that the legislation is “entirely reasonable.” However, RMT boss, Mick Lynch has called out the proposals, stating that free trade unions are an important part of our free society and that the Government’s plans are an “attack on human rights and civil liberties”.
The proposed legislation: The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill will control how many members of staff must stay in their role during a strike, and employers will be able to issue notices which stipulate which of their employees are required to continue to work in order to meet minimum service levels during industrial action. The level for trains, ambulances and fire crews is set to be determined by the Government, whereas for other sectors, there will be an attempt to determine this level, on a voluntary basis. Those who strike after being told by employers that they have been named in the notice, will lose their right to automatic protection from unfair dismissal, which means that they run the risk of being sacked. Under the proposed bill, unions could be sued if they fail to uphold minimum service levels. If implemented, it would affect a total of more than six million workers across Britain.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) is concerned that the legislation is incompatible with Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11; the freedom of assembly and association is integrated into UK law through the Human Rights Act. The TUC have commented “It seems to us it’s very likely to be illegal’ and “will cause concern amongst MPs on all benches who are concerned about civil liberties,”. The TUC is coordinating a day of strike action on 1st February in protest against the legislation.
The Government is aiming to pass the legislation by autumn, although it is likely to be held up by legal challenges given the backlash, not just from affected workers and trade unionists, but from a number of MPs on both sides of the House. Stephen McPartland, Conservative MP for Stevenage, and former minister, tweeted: “Shameful, shameful, shameful to target individual workers and order them to walk past their mates on picket line or be sacked.” Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock has also predicted that his fellow peers in the House of Lords would slow the passage of the Bill stating “…there will be Conservative MPs that will have doubts about this. And the courts, which actually I think could be the great impediment, because even in a country with an unwritten constitution, there are certain accumulated basic human rights that relate to the right to withdraw your labour.”