The UK Strikes (minimum service) Bill 2022-2023 has been a topic of controversy since it was first proposed, in January 2023. The bill aims to ensure that essential services are still provided during strikes. The bill proposes that during strikes, essential services such as healthcare, transport, and emergency services should still be provided.
This means that workers in these industries must continue to work, even if they are striking. The government argues that this is necessary to ensure that the public is not put at risk during strikes. However, recently it has been said that the bill does not meet human rights obligations.
Anti-Strike Bill Does Not Agree with the European Convention
As a counter-argument, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has said that this bill is flawed and will need alteration so that it agrees with Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guaranteed “freedom of assembly and association”. According to the legislative scrutiny posted by JCHR on 6th March, they believe there is no pressing social need for minimum service and the government has not provided enough evidence. Hence, there is no need to balance the rights of the public against the rights of employees and trade unions.
Additionally, the JCHR says the bill places no restrictions or limitations on the State’s law-making power. The fact that the trade unions will have a duty to take “reasonable steps” to ensure service puts the unions at risk as there is no way to tell whether they have succeeded in their duty or not. This, subsequently, restricts unions and employees from their right to peaceful assembly (as mentioned in Article 11 of ECHR).
JCHR also mentions, as they scrutinise this bill, that the consequence for non-compliance is too high. They feel the loss of legal protection – since anyone who does not comply loses their protection from unfair dismissal – is severe. Hence, this is yet another reason why this bill does not comply with human rights obligations as employees would not be able to freely exercise their rights under Article 11 and would be in fear of losing their jobs. The JCHR feels a suspension as a consequence of non-compliance is far more appropriate and proportionate.
Not the First Time an Anti-Strike Bill Has Been Proposed
The UK strikes (minimum service) bill 2022-2023 is not the first attempt to restrict workers’ rights to strike. In recent years, there have been similar proposals in other countries, including France and Spain. However, these proposals have faced significant opposition from trade unions and human rights groups.
The bill has also been criticized for its potential impact on the UK’s international reputation. The UK is a signatory to international human rights treaties, and the bill could be seen as a violation of these treaties. This could damage the UK’s reputation as a defender of human rights and could lead to criticism from other countries and international organizations.
While the government argues that the bill is necessary to ensure that essential services are still provided during strikes, it is argued by many that it infringes on workers’ rights to strike and does not meet human rights obligations. The bill raises concerns about workers’ health and safety, the impact on vulnerable and marginalized groups, and the lack of consultation with trade unions and workers’ representatives. The bill could also damage the UK’s international reputation as a defender of human rights.
The bill reached the committee stage at the House of Lords on 9th March 2023.