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EHRC warns government that anti-strikes law would ‘strip workers of unfair dismissal protections’

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead Burton

Under the government’s draft Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, the right to strike would be restricted by imposing “minimum service levels”. That means that if the bill becomes law, some trade union members would be required to continue working during a strike.

The bill does not set out what the minimum service levels would be for each industry, but they could include maintaining core service provision in emergency services and ensuring key transport, travel and trade routes don’t completely shut down on strike days.

The government has argued the legislation is necessary to ensure minimum safety levels at a time of widespread industrial action.

However, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said the bill in its current form raises “several human rights considerations”, specifically in relation to Article 4 (Prohibition of Slavery and Forced Labour), Article 11 (Freedom of Assembly and Association) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The report also criticised ministers for failing to properly consult on the legislation 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 watchdog said.

The EHRC is 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. By contrast, in Italy, for example, where Minimum Service Levels are permitted, legislation provides that an individual cannot be dismissed for failing to comply with a MSL agreement.

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