EHRC warns Strikes Bill could see all striking workers lose their unfair dismissal protection

Equalities watchdog publishes scathing new report on the anti-strike laws

10 Mar 2023| News

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has today (Thursday) published a scathing report on the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, which warns that the legislation could see all striking workers in affected sectors losing their unfair dismissal protection.

The Strikes Bill is making its way through the House of Lords, and is currently at Committee stage.

In the report, the EHRC says that they “are concerned that an employee would lose automatic unfair dismissal protection not only if they fail to comply with a work notice, but also if their trade union has failed to take reasonable steps to ensure compliance: an employee will not know before participating in a strike whether that is the case or not.”

The organisation contrasts laws in Italy where “legislation provides that an individual cannot be dismissed for failing to comply with a MSL agreement.”

The equalities watchdog also slams the government for failing to publish any analysis “of the proportionality of provisions in the Bill that could remove legal protections for trade unions and employees participating in industrial action.”

Unlawful bill

The EHRC says the government could be in breach the law and “advise careful consideration [of these issues] to mitigate against disproportionate or unjustified interference with Article 4, 11 and 14 ECHR rights.”

The equalities watchdog also heavily criticises ministers’ failure to properly consult on the legislation:

“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.”

The House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee last week criticised the Bill for giving blanket powers to ministers while providing virtually no detail.

Widespread criticism

The EHRC’S intervention comes just days after the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) slammed the government’s Strikes Bill “for failing to meet human rights obligations”.
And in January civil liberties groups – including Liberty, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam – warned the Bill would allow “a further significant and unjustified intrusion by the state into the freedom of association and assembly.”

The TUC – along with women’s rights organisations and race equality groups – has also warned about the legislation disproportionately impacting women and BME workers, because they are overrepresented in affected sectors.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said:

“This bill is a brazen attack on the fundamental right to strike. 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. But the government is steamrolling through parliament legislation that will give ministers sweeping new powers and could mean workers are sacked if they take action to win better pay and conditions.

The EHRC is right to warn that this draconian legislation could see striking workers’ losing a vital right – protection from unfair dismissal. 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.”