New report reveals how the UK has fallen foul of international labour law

IER has published an expert-led analysis of the international laws to which the government to conform.

9 Apr 2020| News

The Coronavirus crisis has sadly brought to light the weakness of UK employment law compared with neighbouring European countries, for instance in the rate and availability of Statutory Sick Pay and the preparedness of industry to reach agreements with workers on emergency measures.

Pandemics require a collective response, but the laws that govern the UK’s workplaces are deliberately set up to prevent such action. The increasing individualisation of employment law, including the degradation of trade union rights, has left workers and employers without the frameworks necessary to coordinate a fair and organised response to emergencies.

In a new IER report, Benchmarking freedom of association: the UK’s non-compliance with international standards, author Andrew Moretta catalogues the extent to which successive post-1979 UK governments have attacked and undermined the fundamental human right of workers to bargain collectively and to take industrial action.

He finds the UK government to be in breach of its international and regional treaty obligations. In his conclusion, he suggests that a new Workers’ Bill of Rights be introduced to enshrine and entrench new laws implementing the UK’s employment-related treaty obligations, including the right for workers to strike, and mechanisms to promote collective bargaining at both an enterprise and sectoral level.

Dr Moretta, of the University of Liverpool, explained:
“Again and again, history has shown that a collective foundation to workers’ rights – through democratic trade unionism – lays the groundwork for better statutory rights too. When workers’ have a voice in the economy to equal that of employers, employment laws are fairer and more balanced. What we’ve seen in the UK since the 1980s is a shift away from a just system and towards one that favours the rights of business over the rights of their staff.

“Unfortunately, Covid-19 has brought to light how these individualised rights make it difficult for us to act collectively when we need to. Workers are afraid to stay at home in case they are dismissed; stories of dangerous health and safety violations abound.

“When this crisis is over, and we grapple with a new recession, we must respond in the same collective spirit that will help us to win our battle against this disease. It’s time to make sure the economy is working for all of us.”

Benchmarking freedom of association is now available from the Institute of Employment Rights’ website – An electronic copy can be purchased for just £4 by trade union members, while subscribers to the IER can access this – and all of our reports – for free.


Editor’s notes
Author, Dr Andrew Moretta, is available for interview.

For queries and interviews with the author, please contact Sarah Glenister at or on 07951790736

About the Institute of Employment Rights
The IER exists to inform the debate around trade union rights and labour law by providing information, critical analysis, and policy ideas through our network of academics, researchers and lawyers.

We were established in February 1989 as an independent organisation to act as a focal point for the spread of new ideas in the field of labour law. In 1994 the Institute became a registered charity.