Parliamentary committee notes potential for human rights breaches in Trade Union Bill

5 Feb 2016| News

05 February 2016

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has reported on the Trade Union Bill, noting the potential for breaches of international human rights law in some of the legislation the government has proposed.

Focusing on Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights – the Right to Assembly – the Committee concluded: “The Trade Union Bill raises a number of potential human rights concerns.”

“It is important to consider the cumulative impact of the proposals on the right to strike which is protected by Article 11 of the Convention,” it added.

The Committee noted that it was difficult to make a thorough assessment of the human rights implications of the Bill when many of its details will be introduced via secondary legislation, such as the definition of “important public services” and reserve powers to limit facility time.

It recommended that the Bill be reassessed through early post-legislative scrutiny in order to ensure that no human rights are breached, explaining that the government must have “objective justification” for restricting industrial action in “important” public services.

The JCHR highlighted that the definition of “important” services currently includes education and transport sectors, and queried whether these should be subject to tightened regulations. Disruptions in these “may cause serious inconvenience”, it noted; however: “it is not clear that they cause a serious risk of harm to the public”.

Conservative plans to abolish the check-off process of deducting trade union subs from workers’ wages may breach people’s property rights, the Committee said: “This might amount to differential treatment of trade union members in their enjoyment of the right to property, which requires the Government to demonstrate objective justification for the difference of treatment which, so far, the Government has not yet provided.”

It was also highlighted that the government has not yet justified why reserve powers for the restriction of facility time in public services is needed.

The Committee revealed that the government had not been cooperative with its investigation into the Human Rights implications of the Trade Union Bill:

“The lateness of the Government’s response to our initial questions; combined with the fact that it did not answer all of our questions (instead noting that it would be providing further information and consultation responses “shortly”) has not assisted our ability scrutinise the Bill before its Lords Committee Stage.”

Disappointingly, while the JCHR drew the attention of parliament to the breaches in ILO Conventions IER President Professor Keith Ewing and Chair John Hendy QC provided written evidence for, it was timid in its push for the government to meet international legal standards.

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