Legislation that would limit possible strike action by nurse’s and other unions failed to meet the UK’s human rights obligations, a committee of MPs and peers has warned.
A joint committee on human rights said that the Government’s proposed anti-strike laws, often referred to as the ‘sacking of nurses bill’, were ‘not justified and need to be reconsidered’.
The committee warned, in a report published yesterday, that the legislation would be in conflict with requirements imposed on the UK under article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which guarantees ‘freedom of association’ for workers.
Freedom of association means that everyone has the right to peacefully assemble and join with others, including in trade unions and in action taken as part of a union.
The Bill, which was introduced by then business secretary Grant Shapps on 10 January, sought to impose minimum service limits on key industries to mitigate the impact of strike action.
The proposals are now before the House of Lords and do not set out minimum service levels, but do give ministers the power to set minimum staffing levels for nurses, ambulance workers and a number of other sectors.
However, the committee has now called on the Government to reconsider the legislation, warning that the Bill ‘arguably currently allows for potentially arbitrary interferences with the right to strike’ and calling into question the notion that there was any ‘pressing social need’ for the legislation.
The committee wrote that: ‘We do not consider that the Government has given clear and compelling reasons why the current legal protections that apply to strikes and the current practice of establishing voluntary minimum service levels are no longer sufficient’.
The committee said the penalties that would be imposed on trade unions for failing to comply with the bill would be ‘severe’.
‘In our view, they may amount to a disproportionate interference with article 11, particularly in circumstances where the strike does not involve essential services and risks to life and limb,’ the committee said.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), giving evidence to the committee, said that there are ‘clear equalities impacts flowing from the Bill’.
The committee said that the RCN had explained that ‘Trade union members in the UK are disproportionately women; this is especially true in nursing, as the workforce is disproportionately female. Black British people are also disproportionately likely to be trade union members. As such, efforts to silence the voice of trade union members risk exacerbating existing societal and structural inequalities.’
A government spokesperson said: ‘The purpose of this legislation is to protect the lives and livelihoods of the public and ensure they can continue to access vital public services.
‘We note this report and will consider it in full, but the government needs to maintain a reasonable balance between the ability of workers to strike and the rights of the public, who work hard and expect essential services to be there when they need them.’