01 February 2013
United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Mr Maina Kiai has criticised the UK’s lack of trade union rights.
In a statement released after the official visited the country and spoke to many concerned parties, he urged the government to improve the law by providing further freedoms to trade unionists.
There were two main areas of concern for Mr Kiai: The nationwide ban on general strikes, which was first introduced by Thatcher in 1982, and the evidence that blacklisting has been performed within the construction industry in recent years and may even be ongoing.
“I found undue constraints on the right to strike,” he stated. “This issue has been criticised by the International Labour Organisation on repeated occasions. It is time to repeal this law and bring the UK into conformity with human rights law.”
He then went on to discuss the evidence blacklisting in the UK, which has been in the news recently after both Balfour Beatty and Sir Robert McAlpine admitted to referring to a list held by known blacklister The Consulting Association when recruiting for the construction of Olympic sites.
Despite disgust at the practice, which often leads to workers being trapped out of employment simply for being in a trade union or engaging in trade union activities, blacklisting is still technically legal in the UK.
Because it is not a criminal offence to use a blacklist, none of the construction companies that are known to have referred to one during their recruitment processes – many of which were household names – have been punished.
“I was appalled to hear about the existence of a blacklist of union members in the construction industry, with no sanctions allegedly taken against those who benefitted from the list. It is crucial that strong actions be taken against the making and using of such lists as a deterrence,” Mr Kiai said.
Following the Rapporteur’s statement, Labour MP John McDonnell tabled Early Day Motion 986 “that this House calls on the Government to act on the recommendations made in the statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association after his visit to the UK in which he states that it is time to bring the UK back into conformity with human rights law by repealing the constraints on the right to strike, introduced in 1982, and that it is crucial that strong action is taken against the making and using of blacklists”.