February 26, 2024

Tullio Corradini

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Strikes Bill threatens workers’ protection from unfair dismissal says equalities watchdog

Strikes Bill threatens workers’ protection from unfair dismissal says equalities watchdog

‘The Bill raises several human rights considerations’ – latest damning report of Strikes Bill

Strike Bill

In the latest scathing review of the Strikes Bill, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has warned it could see striking workers lose their protection from unfair dismissal.

A series of concerns were laid out in a report by the EHRC today, as the Minimum Service Levels Bill passes through the Committee stage in the House of Lords.

The EHRC raised concerns that the right to protection from an unfair dismissal would be lost by striking employees if they fail to comply with a work notice as a result of the legislation, with an employee potentially not knowing before participating in a strike whether that is the case or not.

They compare this to in Italy where an employee cannot be dismissed for failing to comply with a minimum service level agreement.

The equalities watchdog also questioned the clarity of the Bill, asking what is meant by the ‘reasonable steps’ a trade union would need to take to ensure workers comply with a work notice.

Further analysis as to how the government can justify different treatment for workers across the broad range of services covered by the Bill was also asked for.

Currently being pushed rapidly through Parliament, the legislation will give ministers sweeping new powers that could mean workers are sacked if they take strike action.

Further heavy criticism was given to ministers’ failure to properly consult on the legislation, again in contrast to European states who use a more collaborative approach.

The report stated: “We note that the Bill allows the Government discretion to consult ‘such persons as they consider appropriate’ on MSLs, yet there is no requirement to engage nor to attempt to reach an agreement with worker and employer organisations.

“It is not clear why this more collaborative approach – as practised in some states in Europe – was not pursued in the current Bill.”

Ongoing criticism

The report comes just days after the Joint Committee on Human Rights found the Bill to be ‘incompatible with human rights law’.

Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Joanna Cherry KC MP said: “The Strikes Bill needs amending to resolve some of the deep flaws it has.

“If this proposed legislation becomes law in its current form, ministers would have the power to set minimum service levels that would leave striking workers at risk of the sack if they are not met, and unions liable to million-pound fines.

“Yet, the Government has not proven that such draconian measures are needed or that the current framework is inadequate.”

An independent watchdog slammed the government impact assessment of the Bill as ‘not fit for purpose’ and issued it a red card, citing a lack of detail and evidence.

Whilst European unions have come out to condemn the UK government’s attack on the right to strike.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak labelled the bill a ‘brazen attack on the fundamental right to strike’.

He said: “It is little wonder the EHRC has joined an ever-growing list of MPs, Lords and rights groups in condemning this draconian legislation.

“No one should be sacked for trying to win a better deal at work.

“The Conservatives are trying to keep people in the dark about the true nature of this legislation. But make no mistake – this Bill is undemocratic, unworkable and almost certainly illegal.

“And crucially it will likely poison industrial relations and exacerbate disputes rather than help resolve them.

“It’s time for ministers to protect the fundamental right to strike and drop this nasty bill.”

Hannah Davenport is trade union reporter at Left Foot Forward

Left Foot Forward’s trade union reporting is supported by the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust

Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust logo

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