Trade Union Bill: another calculated attack on workers’ rights

The European Court of Human Rights may have a mandate to intervene against the Conservatives’ anti-strike proposals


The Tories’ Trade Union Bill is an extraordinary attack on the human rights of working people. Only Labour can stop it, but some in the party will fear a confrontation over workers’ rights. It’s vital we don’t let that fear get the better of us.

The Trade Union Bill will make strikes for public sector workers impossible unless 40 per cent of workers eligible to vote favour industrial action and the voter turnout reaches 50 per cent.

In addition, in the unlikely event of a strike, the plans would make it easier for employers to hire agency staff, making industrial action ineffective and making collective rights redundant.

It’s ironic that a Tory government that won only 37 per cent of the vote wishes to implement such a law.

If democracy in the United Kingdom was held to the same standards, no government would be elected. The Conservatives won the most recent election with 37 per cent  of the vote and in 2010 won 36.1 per cent and managed to form government.

Yet the same percentages would not provide a mandate for public sector strikes. This intrinsically flaws the proposal.

As well as its hypocrisy, the proposed law will severely undermine human rights, specifically freedom of association. By limiting public sector strikes, the government will be preventing the universal right to freedom of association, a right closely linked to freedom of expression.

This will compromise the right of a group to take collective action to pursue the interests of its members.

The state is obligated to protect the right to strike and collective bargaining in order to allow for the protection of workers. The right to strike and collective bargaining maintain safe working conditions, fair wages and healthy working hours. These are things that benefit us all.

Labour should always be a broad church, but we should also continue in our tradition of fighting to preserve the protection of workers when they are at their most vulnerable.

Workers’ rights are human rights and this is just another proposal for legislation that is consistent with the Conservative’s anti-human rights agenda. In fact, it is very much linked to the Tories’ attack on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Human Rights Act.

The ECHR protects the rights of workers under freedom of association. In a case a few years ago involving the Turkish government’s ban on public sector strikes, the European Court of Human Rights used the ECHR to declare the law incompatible with Turkey’s human rights obligations.

The European Court of Human Rights may therefore have a mandate to intervene against the Conservatives’ anti-strike proposals. Aware of this, the Conservatives have developed what looks like a deliberate and calculated plan to assault workers’ rights and undermine the ECHR at the same time.

The Labour Party must not be afraid to challenge the Tories’ or appear to be seen too left-wing on the issue of human rights. Regardless of the election defeat or a future policy supporting aspiration, Labour must maintain its position to protect the fundamental human rights of workers in the United Kingdom.

Steven Male is a Campaigns Volunteer with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

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75 Responses to “Trade Union Bill: another calculated attack on workers’ rights”

  1. Selohesra

    What about the rights of the ordinary members of the public not to be inconvenienced by these strikes. If they were a last resort there may be some sympathy but nowadays the annual rail/tube strike or teachers strike is something to be expected. Union members need to claim back their unions from the political agitators before its too late

  2. Jacko

    Your government-union analogy is a poor one.

    1. The country has to have a government of some form, whether you agree with the composition of it or not. The country does not have to have strikes. It’s a basic difference.

    2. One does not chose to join the electorate and pay tax. You just acquire that status through age. It’s therefore reasonable to expect in those circumstances that many of those people have no interest in politics or voting. That’s their choice. However, it is a reasonable expectation that at least half of the people who’ve chosen to join a union and pay for it, vote in a strike ballot that affects all the members. You’re not comparing the same thing.

    3. In the general election there are many parties to vote for. A strike ballot is a simple yes or no choice. So it’s meaningless to compare election winner percentages and strike ballot percentages.
    In fact, the 40% figures still allows a strike to take place even though a majority of voters voted against it. In a two-horse race, I’d call that pretty favourable.

    4. If you want to quote election figures, think about this. 50% of the electorate voted for Tory and UKIP. I’d call that pretty strong right wing support. So forget the idea that most people wanted a left wing government and were cheated. They didn’t, and they weren’t.

  3. Torybushhug

    Greedy state sector entitlement drones are the only people that strike.

  4. stevep

    The Tories:
    Anti-working people.
    Anti-collectivity (except cartels).
    Anti-unions (except NFU).
    Anti true democracy (power in the hands of the people).
    Anti-everything that interferes with greed and the acquisition of wealth and unelected power.

  5. stevep

    Unions are democratic organisations whose members get to choose who represents them.
    They chose leaders best able to stand up to the relentless Tory onslaught on their rights and Employers reneging on negotiated agreements.
    The only political agitators I see are the Tory Trolls infesting this page and Left Foot Forward as a whole.

  6. Dave C

    Steve, totally agree, wish there was some form of moderation on this blog

  7. stevep

    Then let`s “out” them whenever we can and challenge their bullshit.

  8. wj

    Why do your arguments not apply to the European Union – its institutions have repeatedly ruled against collective action on the grounds of EU law.

  9. dnspncr

    Without the right to strike, collective bargaining is nothing more than begging.

  10. stevep

    Tory SunMail reader reply. Brainwashed drone.

  11. stevep

    Well Said.

  12. Faerieson

    Are you capable of independent thought?

  13. Nick

    The bottom line is if someones on strike the chances are they being abused at SOME level within the company they work for

    abuse takes many forms from verbal by management threats of various kinds lack of safety/lack of work breaks / working to many hours 14 hours per day or more and so on

    I have never known anyone go on strike or even think it working for a genuine company and i don’t think i ever will

  14. Dave Stewart

    You don’t have a right not to be inconvenienced.

    I think the latest network rail potential strike clearly demonstrates who is at fault in regards to causing strikes.

    They gave a pretty appalling offer and refused to negotiate any further saying it was the best they could afford. As soon as the threat of a strike became realistic suddenly there was a better deal to be had. This second offer was still pretty poor and was rejected by workers and then low and behold a third final best we can do materializes.

    Lets ask ourselves who is playing silly games in that situation and who are causing the threat of massive disruption to the public at large? Is it the workers who have suffered years of below inflation pay rises (otherwise known as a real terms pay cut) trying to get a half decent deal or is it the management of network rail who consistently try to low ball the workers rather than just give a half decent offer in the first place thus forcing them to call strike action on multiple occasions relating to the multiple “final best offers”.

    People need to get a grip when it comes to public sector strikes. The public sector typically has better terms and conditions because it has strong(ish) unions fighting for the workers. Those in the private sector who dislike being inconvenienced and think it unfair that the public sector has better pensions etc my suggestion is this:

    rather than decry the public sector and all the “perks” it has and calling for those “perks” to be removed so that public sector employees are just as put upon as private sector employees why don’t you unionise and fight for your own rights? That way you won’t be calling for others lives to be made harder but instead you’d be fighting to improve the lives of yourself and your colleagues. On top of this you would almost certainly have the support of those public sector unions in your struggles. Just a thought.

  15. Dave Stewart

    The point is though that if you choose not to take part in a ballot you are tacitly accepting the result of that ballot one way or the other. Otherwise you would vote in it. It’s like saying that no one should run the government because more people didn’t vote than voted Tory. Those people have chosen not to vote and therefore tacitly accept the result one way or the other.

  16. blarg1987

    Coming form an individual who more then likely directly or indirectly, is able to have the quality of life they enjoy, secured on the back of the trade union movement.

  17. dnspncr

    Right wing support? Bullshit. British jobs for British people, Britain selling off its companies to foreigners, Britain should pull out the EU, it’s all you get in the Morning Star. Who cares if UKip are neoliberals, not their voters, most of them don’t even know what the term means… not even sure if their leader does lol.

  18. blarg1987

    Just to clarify, would you extend those rights of the ordinary public, not to be inconvenienced by PLC’s? In say causing unemployment etc?

  19. blarg1987

    The governments policy is untenable as they are not extending it, to other organisations say PLC’s on yes no ballots for say executive pay.

    This makes the policy nieve at best, or serving a small group of wealthy individuals in its most obvious way at worst.

  20. Ted Ryder

    Every right every worker has is because of unions, from tea breaks, lunch breaks to holiday pay and sick, with many, many more rights that people take for granted. Just because you are not in a union doesn’t mean that what you have got now isn’t because of union action. Strike action is a last resort. Instead of complaining of your “inconvenience”, think about why people have to strike.

  21. Ted Ryder

    It’s only the state sector strikes that the media report on. Private sector strikes are “hidden away”, so everyone believes that they don’t happen!

  22. Ted Ryder

    100% of the electorate did not vote, therefore 50% did not vote Tory and UKIP. Only 35% of the electorate voted?

  23. Faerieson

    So, you assume that any breakdown in negotiations is always solely the fault of the trade unions? ‘Ordinary members of the public,’ as you term us do not have these, ‘rights not to be inconvenienced,’when the mighty corporations cause far greater hardship. Perhaps you should broaden your reading.

  24. Faerieson

    Well put, sir!

    When some individuals talk of ‘freedoms of choice,’ freedom not to belong to a trade union,’ ‘freedom not to strike’- and of course these ‘rights’ exist- they never seem willing to exercise their rights, ‘not to take the latest pay award,’ or, ‘not to take a tea break,’ ‘not to take a full weekend off work.’ They invariably, ‘know their rights,’ but seldom seem to know where these rights came from.

  25. stevep

    Absolutely. We`ve lost sight of facts like these owing to relentless far-right propaganda to the contrary over the last 30 or so years. Time for redress.
    Well said.

  26. Ted Ryder

    ‘Unions’ can’t strike without a vote of their membership, and striking is the last thing most of the members want. The media and political propaganda has turned public opinion against the unions but without past Union actions workers would not have any of the good working practices they have today. All the great things unions have, and are, achieving for their members (which is also applies to non-members) are very really publicised. If only union members got these benefits I’m sure there would be an outcry! Would you turn down a pay increase that was won through Union action? Thought not

  27. stevep

    Most people don`t vote in a ballot, industrial action or election, because they have been deliberately de-politicised. propagandised to believe that politics has nothing to do with them, when of course, it has everything to do with them. “It`s not up to me, mate!”, ” I`m sick of hearing about politics!”, “you`ll never change anything!”, being typical reactions.
    This suits the right-wing state, for it does not want collectivity interfering with private greed.

  28. stevep

    That`s why the Tories are trying to reduce the public sector, to reduce the effectiveness of it`s affiliated unions. They wilfully destroyed the UK`s manufacturing sector in the 1980`s because the unions were so intertwined in it.
    By destroying the sector, they destroy democratic collectivity within it. They then rebuild using poorly-unionised, poorly-paid, undemocratic private sector alternatives.
    It`s been the doctrine of the far-right globally for the last 35 years.

  29. MaryCSmith

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  30. gunnerbear

    I’m a TU member – have been for decades and I think it is a brilliant idea to put turnover limits in place. Why? Because it stops moronic TU leaders confusing their political aims with the aims and wishes of their members and more importantly it makes HMG look like morons as well. HMG has said that the vote must be ‘X’ and ‘Y’ per cent in terms of turnout etc. Great…..because if the issue is serious enough – especially in the public sector – the turnout and ‘Yes’ vote will be overwhelming making the SoS look like a tool and also hammer home time after time after time, just how much of a ‘mandate’ HMG has. Why did I mention HMG – because the vast, vast, majority of strikes take place in the public sector – a sector cushioned from some of the realities of life in the private sector where if you wreck the company by striking for a b*****t reason you’re out of a job. I know more than a few on the Right who are extremely nervous about the long term impact of these proposals – far fewer strikes and industrial action – but when strikes do occur – they’ll be big, long lasting and well supported. And there is no way HMG can keep the NHS or schools going with agency staff and no Headteacher would take the risk of non-ECRB’d individuals teaching or managing lessons (for example).

  31. gunnerbear

    The workers working for NR are public sector skilled workers – as such I’d offer them a no-strike deal underwritten by an IPRB just as HM Forces have. The public sector has better perks because it doesn’t pay for it themselves – they soak the private sector for them. In the private sector we have a thing called competition – often from around the world – so our costs e.g wages and company pensions can’t get too high or no matter how skilled you are the company goes under, chopped by cheaper competition. That’s why some in the private sector can’t be doing with whining types in the public sector who have their pay and pensions underwritten by the private sector i.e the taxpayers – which is another reason I’m all for the new legislation.

  32. gunnerbear

    You’d better introduce massive protectionist barriers then if you want to ramp up UK wages in the face of intense, cheap global competition.

  33. gunnerbear

    “striking is the last thing most of the members want.” Respectfully, f**kin’ balls – I know people who work in the public sector and know that striking is effectively a no-risk business in the public sector. If the NUT leadership for example want to call a strike then they’ll need to convince a huge block of their members to vote for it – and being a teacher, given pay. pensions and time off, isn’t a ‘bad screw’. Bit different to the private sector where industrial action can sink a company.

  34. gunnerbear

    It might be a ‘last resort’ in the private sector but the public sector strike at the drop of a hat – because the public sector knows it is a no-risk business striking in the public sector. Try striking in the private sector and you can rapidly find yourself out of a job – not quite the same thing at all.

  35. dnspncr

    It’s a bollocks argument anyway. Why stop at 100% of the electorate, why not extend it to 100% of the population of Britain; people aged under 18, sentenced prisoners (like the 21,000 people who were sent to prison for fine defaulting in the last five years) and people who are deemed unable to understand the voting procedure. Trying to imply that our country leans to the right is ridiculous.

  36. stevep

    Anyone who is not born into land, wealth and privilege, which is the vast majority of us, has to offer their brains, sweat and toil to “earn” a living. To offer ourselves as wage slaves at the beck and call of our masters.
    They may be beneficent and enlightened masters that treat and pay their “workers” fairly. All too often
    they don`t, for whatever reason they may give.
    The only weapon a worker has, in the face of unreasonable power and injustice, is to be part of a collective and withdraw his/her labour.
    Without labour, employers cannot function. They know that. Small wonder then that so much effort is put into lobbying governments to introduce legislation to make withdrawing ones labour as difficult as possible, even illegal.
    For Tory governments, such actions are natural, for they are the party of the wealthy and privileged.
    The Labour government 1997-2010 could have and should have repealed repressive Tory anti-union legislation and put democratic collective bargaining back on the national agenda. It tinkered about with it instead, giving more emphasis to employers and legalising strikes only if certain hoops were jumped through and T`s were crossed.
    My assertion is: That every man or woman, whatever talent and motivation he/she possesses, has a right to a decent living that should not be dependant on his/ her status at birth or dependant on the whims of the wealthy and powerful.
    Until we reach such status, Trades Unions and collectivity are the sensible options for the vast majority of us.

  37. stevep

    Withdrawing your labour is an inherently risky business, private sector or public.
    You go on strike, you don`t get paid, No pay, no mortgage or utility bill payment.
    Plenty of strikers have gone under over the years, it`s not done for fun – only as a last resort to try to protect yourself from unreasonable demands from employers that could see you going under anyway. Hobson`s choice!
    Very few companies have sunk due to industrial action. They sink mainly because of poor management, under investment, shareholder and director`s greed. Good companies (very often successful ones), maintain a dialogue with their employees and their representatives and benefit from it.
    Private and public sector employees alike used to enjoy decent pay, pensions etc. until manufacturing was wilfully destroyed in the 1980`s on the twin alters of ideology and greed, taking unions down with them. The sectors were then rebuilt as service sectors with poor pay, poor employee rights, reduced pensions etc. as the norm.
    So don`t blame the unions for trying to maintain existing public sector pay and conditions, the private sector could be still be enjoying them too if corporate greed hadn`t won the day.

  38. gunnerbear

    Most strikers in the public sector take the odd day off without pay. They are at no risk of being unemployed e.g the school or hospital isn’t going to close is it and make them all redundant. Frankly, given the awesome pay and pensions advantages that public sector workers enjoy on average over private sector workers, I’d abolish the right to strike in any public sector job and bring in IPRBs for the NHS, teachers etc. Why should I pay for unproductive lazy (insert very naughty c-word) like some in the NHS and teaching to be able to enjoy pension and featherbedding that because I’m a productive taxpayer, I have to pay for (as well as my own provision). Look at Grangemouth – if that had been in the public sector the workers could’ve stayed out for ever, at no risk of job losses… reality the employers said, “We’re already losing money….push this too far and we’re all f**ked…..”. Lo and behold the workers came back. I’ve recently been involved in industrial action with my employer but was acutely aware – the company is losing millions at the moment – that if we pushed it too far we’d all be f**ked….and yes you’ve guessed it, that was over pensions. So even as a TU man, I want the soakers and the non-jobbers in the public sector to have to fight hard to strike – after all the private sector pay for it. Still, that’s probably too small c-conservative for some in the current iteration of the Left to grasp as they fight for vested interests, the immigrants and the claimant classes that the rest of us have to pay for. As to what happened 30 odd years ago – that was then, I’m working in todays world. As to corporate greed – the company I works for competes in a global world fighting for custom from global suppliers for whom price of material is the key determinant – again not quite the same as the nurses in the NHS who let people die needlessly at Mid Staffs or the teachers that routinely turn out school leavers who can’t read or write. How about that for an incentive scheme – too many deaths at hospital we sack 10% of managers, doctors and other medical personnel at random. Maybe do the same for schools – any school turning out above X% of children that can’t read or write – sack the headmaster and 10% of the staff at random. There you go – a direct link between outcomes and responsibility – just like for those of us who work in the private sector. As the UK financial regulators I’d jailed every one of them for malfeasance in a public office and jailed the chairs and CEOs of all the banks that took public cash as part of the bailout – one year for each million that they needed to keep going….. …as for the man who smashed the UK economy into the ground, one Gordon Brown, for him, I reserve the worst possible punishment – he’d be forced to live next door to George Osborne for ever.

  39. gunnerbear

    Labour? The native working men and women in this country would have been way better off if the Labour Party – yes the Labour Party – had not thrown open the doors of the UK to the flotsam, jetsam, unemployed and unemployable of the entire world.

  40. gunnerbear

    Repressive legislation? What, you want to go back to the days when all the workforce had to turn up in a field or hall to vote in public? Put people at risk of having their head kicked in or a brick thrown through their window (or worse) if they vote the ‘wrong way’?

  41. gunnerbear

    “That every man or woman, whatever talent and motivation he/she possesses, has a right to a decent living…..” A noble aim that does you credit but then you’d better stop globalisation and free trade and throw up huge protectionist barriers to protect UK workers on high wages……

  42. RachellDCravens

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  43. gunnerbear

    I’ve never thought of myself as either a political agitator or a Tory Troll….. …do I need to get special badges from somewhere?

  44. gunnerbear

    Yep….and we use a secret ballot to pick a leader – but stevep – didn’t you imply that the requirements for such secret ballots was somehow ‘repressive TU legislation’?

  45. stevep

    An animated reply, but you seem to miss my point entirely, which is that the decline in pay, pensions etc. was entirely managed by right-wing zealots and global corporations who created the ultra-competitive world you are talking about, which impacted on the world we all live and work in today. Free market Capitalism is a failed ideology which has led to more power and wealth being vested in the hands of fewer people and widespread poverty worldwide.
    It was this ideology that led to the collapse of the banks and near-economic ruin, not poor old Gordon Brown, who seems to have been lumbered with the blame for it by the disingenuous right.
    A leper in this country, hero the world over for advising countries on how to get out of the mess ( USA included). History will show a truer, less biased picture.
    As for George Osborne, he`ll soon have to resort to tying a pork chop around his neck to get the dog to play with him.

  46. gunnerbear

    “Free market Capitalism is a failed ideology which has led to more power and wealth being vested in the hands of fewer people and widespread poverty worldwide.” And Labour cheered it on.

  47. gunnerbear

    “It was this ideology that led to the collapse of the banks and near-economic ruin, not poor old Gordon Brown….” Gordon was one of the chief architects of the system that came crashing down….something we’re still paying for today…..

  48. stevep

    No, The Thatcher Government were the chief architects of the system that came crashing down. It was they that rejected social democracy and the post-war consensus, then forced an untested economic doctrine, monetarism, on the British people. It was they that deregulated the city and the banking system.
    It didn`t work, caused economic and social chaos (high unemployment,Black Wednesday, the poll tax, the miners strike, anyone?) benefited a relative handful of already-wealthy bosses and city spivs whilst making the rest of us worse off.
    The incoming Labour government of 1997 inherited this economic mess from a disinterested, infighting Major-led Tory government.
    If Gordon Brown made one big mistake, it was trusting the city and the banks at their word to regulate themselves. He admits that. The whole world now knows the big financial institutions cannot be trusted at their word.
    But still it goes on after five years of a Tory-led government. Lax or no regulation, colossal Bankers and city bonuses and the same free-market doctrine and fiscal policy that led to two recessions and very nearly a third in five years. The economy was growing in 2010 when Labour left office, What happened?
    The tired old talk of the right, seeking to justify failed economic doctrines, never ceases to amaze me. Poverty caused by such regimes is disguised by platitudes like “lacking in Initiative”, “failure to help themselves” or “there`s plenty of work for those who want to look for it”. The hypocritical stench of pious Victoriana is everywhere. Decency and compassion, nowhere.
    It is the intention of websites like Left Foot Forward to reclaim the real narrative and to expose the false. Not before time.

  49. stevep

    yes, you`re right.

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