Employment lawyers condemn anti-strike movement


Earlier this month the Government condemned a strike by London Underground drivers and according to No:10, Mr Cameron is open to the idea of changing the law if further clouds of industrial strike action begin to build.

Simpson Millar has always proudly recognised the strength and value of trade unions using their influence to negotiate for the protection of jobs, working conditions and to resolve workplace disputes. The actions of some employers, in recent years, would suggest a preference for High Court litigation over negotiation as a way of resolving workplace disputes. Unions are increasingly finding themselves subjected to legal challenges from employers who seek to block members from taking industrial action.

The right of union members to participate in lawful industrial action is a legitimate expression of the right to 'freedom of association' under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is a fundamental human right guaranteed in the UK, by the Human Rights Act 1998.

Employment lawyers condemn anti-strike movement

Employers, it would appear, are not alone in seeking to restrict a worker’s right to lawfully withdraw their labour. The Institute of Directors has recently called for an end to collective pay bargaining in the UK. Business groups, isolated MPs and more recently, London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, have called on the Coalition Government to take a tougher stance with unions by banning strike action.

TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber says: "The UK already has some of the toughest laws on strike action in the developed world and there is no need to further restrict this basic human right”. Before any strike action can be taken, trades unions must follow complex and time-consuming procedural rules - most of which are specifically designed to dissuade workers from withdrawing their labour. The effect is to stall the industrial action (in most cases for at least 6 weeks from the date on which the dispute first arose) until the union has jumped through all of the eligibility, ballot and notice 'hoops' required for lawful action to begin. Even then, industrial action may be further delayed while the High Court considers whether to grant an injunction preventing the strike from going ahead.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, indicated earlier this year that he was prepared to consider changes to strike laws only 'as a last resort' and has since largely ignored the call for legislative change, particularly as it would make it impossible to strike without the support of more than 50% of those eligible to vote in a ballot (rather than merely those who voted). Such changes, if implemented may even provoke further industrial unrest – inciting workers to 'work to rule' or take other action short of a strike.

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