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11.01.16

Trade Union Bill could breach human rights – EHRC

The government’s Trade Union Bill is in danger of imposing “potentially unlawful” restrictions on everyone’s basic human right to strike, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). 

Commenting ahead of the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords today (11 January), the Commission has advised Parliament that some of its measures may breach the right to strike

It added that it welcomes amendments to the Bill made in the House of Commons, and the government’s decision to abandon its attempts to further restrict picketing. 

However, there are concerns the legislation could fall short in areas such as the provisions on minimum ballot turnout, minimum ballot support requirements for important public services and for limiting the duration of a ballot mandate. 

Lorna McGregor, a commissioner at the EHRC, said: “Joining a trade union and peacefully picketing outside workplaces is a right not a privilege and restrictions have to be properly justified and proportionate.” 

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said the EHRC’s intervention shows that “yet another” government body feels it has to speak out against a Bill already rubbished as 'not fit for purpose'. He added that the Bill is “mindless” anti-worker legislation that nobody wants or sees a case for apart from the Conservatives. 

“The Nasty Party never went away,” he said. “Their mission now is to make UK workers among the least protected in the western world. The Lords should do the decent thing and sling this bill where it belongs, in the bin.” 

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, told PSE it was “rank hypocrisy” to introduce arbitrary restrictions on union ballots that will not apply to MPs, MEPs, councillors and police commissioners. 

“We have repeatedly asked ministers to work with us to make it easier for people to vote in workplaces and using technology, and they have refused,” he said. “This is not an attack on trade unions, it is an attack on society as a whole, as we know that weaker unions means greater inequality.” 

Ahead of today’s second reading, Lord Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service, now president of the LGA, wrote in the Guardian that despite some bruising encounters with unions during his time in government, he is not in favour of the Bill. 

“While there are quite reasonable steps to increase transparency, the main thrust of the measures seems to be both partisan and disproportionate to the supposed problems that they are seeking to address,” he said. 

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said if the ministers’ priority really is to boost participation in ballots, then allow unions to have secure workplace balloting and electronic balloting. 

“If it’s good enough for the Conservatives to select their candidate for London Mayor, then it is good enough for nurses, fire-fighters and car assembly workers,” she said. “The Trade Union Bill has no place in a modern democracy. It must be voted down.” 

Last year, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said that government proposals on strike laws were an outdated response to industrial relations issues in the UK and could prove counter-productive. 

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