Employment Briefing — May 2014: case law round-up

UK law on industrial action does not breach Human Rights legislation — RMT v United Kingdom [[2014] ECHR 366]
In a welcome decision for employers, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has held that the ban in the UK on secondary industrial action (otherwise known as ‘sympathy strikes’) does not breach the right to freedom of association contained in article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court agreed with the union (RMT) that the ban did ‘interfere’ with article 11 rights; however, the interference pursued the legitimate aim of protecting the rights and freedoms of others, including the employer and the wider interests of the public, and so it was therefore proportionate. The court found that the union had, in any event, been able to exercise its article 11 rights in other ways by taking primary strike action and by collectively bargaining with the employer over terms and conditions. 

The RMT had also argued that the UK’s balloting and notification requirements were ‘unnecessarily burdensome’ and amounted to a breach of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association with others set out in article 11 of the ECHR. This argument was also unsuccessful.

This decision is clearly welcome news for employers with unionised workforces. It ends a long legal campaign by unions to try to reverse the UK’s prohibition on secondary strikes. Critics of the decision argue that the trend towards outsourcing in the public sector reduces employees’ collective bargaining power. For example, in a dispute with a private sector contractor operating within a public sector organisation, the union can only ballot the contractor’s employees and not the employees in the wider organisation…

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