Attack on trade union freedoms will deepen poverty and inequality, legal experts to warn

7 Sep 2012| News

07 September 2012


  • Attack on trade union freedoms will deepen poverty and inequality, legal experts to warn

  • Len McCluskey will join legal experts Professor Keith Ewing and John Hendy QC in a fight against ideological action against trade unions.

  • IER will argue current UK laws contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.

  • IER will launch the first interactive online timeline highlighting the Coalition’s ideological attack on workers and trade union rights.

Further attacks on trade union freedoms will deepen poverty among working people, legal experts will warn. Two of the UK’s leading employment lawyers will use the Trades Union Congress this week to call for a halt on threats to workers’ rights and discuss how far trade unions could go in their protests against austerity cuts.

Professor Keith Ewing and John Hendy QC, President and Chair of the Institute of Employment Rights respectively, will highlight how the demise of collective bargaining over terms and conditions has given employers undue weight in negotiations, leading to a downwards spiral of wages and a spread of poverty among working people.

This downward pressure on workers standard of living has led to an increase in strike action, with the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics revealing working days lost to industrial disputes rose to 1.5 million over the 12 months to May 2012 compared with 153,000 in the 12 months to May 2011.

Despite anti-trade union myths propagated by some areas of the press and the government, Prof Ewing and Mr Hendy will reassure workers that their continued fight against the austerity cuts that threaten their living conditions and their rights is well within the law.

They will also warn that UK law – including the ban on sympathy strikes – is in contravention of the European Convention of Human Rights and instruct trade unionists on what powers they have under the eyes of international law.

The legal experts will call for a change in UK employment law, updating it to match the rules governing trade unions in other European countries, including allowing British workers the right to strike and smoothing out the complexities in legislation that severely undermine trade union activity and consequently keep wages low and terms unjust.

Professor Ewing and John Hendy QC will be speaking at the Old Ship Hotel on King’s Road in Brighton on Sunday 9th September, knocking down some of the distortions around industrial action peddled by the government and the media by illustrating how UK workers are acting well within the law when they take protest action. Len McCluskey from UNITE will also join the platform to outline the union’s line of resistance to the Coalition’s cuts.

Also revealed at the event will be the first ever online timeline detailing the Coalition’s systematic dilution of workers’ rights. The timeline lays bare the anti-worker ideology that drives the government’s proposals, which have chipped away at the protections of workers, equality and trade unions over the past two years.

John Hendy, QC, Chair of IER, said:

“In pursuit of a neo-liberal agenda, collective bargaining has been destroyed in the UK. A pre-requisite for the restoration of collective bargaining and hence the reduction of inequality and stimulation of the economy is a set of trade union rights which conforms to international treaty obligations. To start with, the existing law on collective action should be scrapped and replaced with a legal framework befitting a modern democracy.”

Keith Ewing, President of the IER, said:

“The fundamental trade union rights necessary to support collective bargaining must be a central theme in any social and economic strategy – the method for delivering fairness at work, better working conditions and greater equality and reducing poverty. Collective bargaining is essential to a fair, equal and inclusive society.”

Speaking ahead of the event, Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, said:

“Attacks on trade unions are simply attacks on millions of decent working people. They do nothing to create jobs and share prosperity. All they do is further tilt power in favour of business, regardless of the social ills this creates. We will not accept this war on working people one minute longer because to do so is to sleepwalk into a country that has enshrined inequality.

“To rebuild our country so that it is fair and thriving, workers and their trade unions must be able to stand up for themselves. We will fight every step of the way to stop this government destroying the framework of protections working people have fought long and hard for.”

– End –

Notes to Editors:

IER: The Institute of Employment Rights was established in February 1989. It is a network of academics and lawyers acting as a focal point for the spread of new ideas in the field of labour law. It is an independent charity supported by trade unions representing over 6 million UK workers. See Tel: 0151 207 5265

Days of Action: The legality of protest strikes against government cuts: This publication from the Institute considers whether a day of action called by the TUC and trade unions, taking place on a weekday and intended to protest at the government’s cuts and austerity measures, could be lawful in the UK in the light of recent jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. Click here to find out more.

IER Fringe meeting: The IER fringe will take place at the end of the first session of Congress, Sunday 9 September at 7.00pm at the Old Ship Hotel, Regency Room, King’s Road, Brighton. Speakers include Professor Ewing, John Hendy QC and Len McCluskey and will be chaired by Carolyn Jones. Click here to find out more.

Coalition Timeline: IER have, they believe, created the first online interactive timeline of the Coalition’s ideological attack on workers and trade unions. See the free resource here.

Contact: If you would like further information or interviews with speakers, please contact either Carolyn Jones at IER (07941 076245) or Pauline Doyle at UNITE (07976 832861)