27. Memorandum from the Trades Union
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) welcomes the
opportunity to submit evidence to the Joint Select Committee's
Inquiry on a British Bill of Rights. The TUC has 59 affiliated
unions in membership, representing nearly 6.5 million people working
in a wide variety of UK industries and occupations.
The TUC welcomed the publication of the Government's
Green Paper The Governance of Britain, which launched a
national debate on constitutional arrangements, including whether
there should be a British Bill of Rights. The TUC looks forward
to participating in this wider debate. This submission concentrates
on the role of collective rights, in particular trade union rights,
in any future Bill of Rights.
The TUC believes that if a Bill of Rights were
to be adopted in the UK, it must include collective rights for
trade unions. In particular, a Bill of Rights should include rights
to freedom of association (including protections for trade unions
and employers' associations), the right to organise effectively
(including the right to strike), and the right to free collective
bargaining. These fundamental human rights are recognised and
protected by a range of international treaties including the ILO
Conventions 87 and 98 and Articles 5 and 6 of the European Social
Charter 1961. Although Article 11 of the European Convention of
Human Rights protects freedom of association for trade unions,
this Convention right has been interpreted narrowly. The TUC believes
that the wider ILO and Council of Europe standards should be incorporated
into UK law and should form part of any future Bill of Rights.
Guaranteeing fundamental rights for trade unions
in the UK would benefit workers, the economy and wider civic society.
Through collective bargaining and effective worker representation
trade unions play a central role in reducing inequality as well
as enabling organisations to adapt to increased global competitive
pressures. In its 2004 Jobs Study
the OECD found: "consistent evidence that overall earnings
dispersion is lower where union membership is higher and collective
bargaining more encompassing and centralised."
In July 2007, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
published a report "Poverty and wealth across Britain"
which charted the national proportions of poverty and wealth at
each period in time. It found that "the proportion of houses
that were core poor and breadline poor declined during the 1970s,
but then increased again during the 198Os".
During the 1990s, while the proportion of core poor households
declined, the breadline poor continued to rise. The rise in social
equality in the 1970s, tracked by the Joseph Rowntree report,
coincided with high levels of collective bargaining coverage and
union membership density. The growth in poverty experienced in
the 1980s and 1990s was accompanied by a decline in union recognition
and collective bargaining arising in part from the introduction
of legal restrictions on trade union freedoms.
Since 1997, the UK Government has introduced
a range of welcome measures increasing the rights of trade unions,
including the right to be accompanied, the statutory recognition
scheme and extended protections for trade union members and officials
from discrimination and victimisation. Nevertheless, many of the
restrictions on trade union rights, introduced during the 1980s
and 1990s, remain in place. These restrict trade union autonomy
and limit the ability of unions to represent union members' economic
The inclusion of trade union rights within a
Bill of Rights would also assist in ensuring that the UK complies
with international human rights standards to which we are signatories.
As the Committee will be aware, since 1989 the
ILO Committee of Experts has consistently found that UK trade
union laws fail to comply with ILO Convention 87 (on freedom of
association and protection of the right to organise) and ILO Convention
98 (on the right to organise and bargain collectively. Similarly,
in its latest report, published in 2005, the Social Rights Committee
of the Council of Europe reiterated the view that UK laws do not
comply with Article 5 and 6 of the European Social Charter 1961
in a number of key respects. Issues of concern raised by these
international supervisory bodies include limitations on the right
to strike, including inadequate protection from dismissal for
striking workers; restrictions on trade union autonomy, including
the inability of unions to determine who should be admitted into
union membership and the exclusion of small forms from statutory
recognition provisions. In its Report on the International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
the Joint Select Committee concluded "The CESCR [Concluding
Observations of the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural
Rights] concludes that current law places undue restrictions on
the right to strike, as protected in Article 8 ICESCR. We consider
that the Government should take seriously the successive findings
of the authoritative international bodies overseeing treaties
to which the UK has become party, and should review the existing
law in the light of them."
Most recently, the European Court of Human Rights
ruled that the UK was in breach of Article 11 of the European
Convention. The court held that ASLEF's right to freedom of association
under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights had
been violated by section 174 of TULR(C)A 1992 which prevented
it from expelling one of its members on the ground of his membership
of the British National Party. The TUC welcomes the provisions
contained in the Employment Bill currently being considered by
Parliament. However, the TUC believes that further measures are
needed to comply with the finding of the Court in the ASLEF
case that "under Article 11 unions must be free to decide,
in accordance with union rules, questions concerning admission
to and expulsion from the union." In the light of the ECHR's
judgment TUC believes that the Government should carry out a review
of all trade union laws to assess whether they comply with Article
11 of the European Convention.
The inclusion of core trade union rights in
a Bill of Rights would also bring UK law and practice into line
with the constitutional arrangements of many other countries.
Trade union rights are incorporated in national constitutions
or constitutional arrangements of the majority of EU Member States.
In its recent judgement in the Viking case,
the European Court of Justice also recognised that "the right
to take collective action, including the right to strike, is a
fundamental right which forms an integral part of the general
principles of Community law". Most other G8 countries' constitutions
also recognise trade union rights. Recently, the Canadian Supreme
Court introduced constitutional protection for collective bargaining.
The Court concluded "Recognizing that workers have the right
to bargain collectively as part of their freedom to associate
reaffirms the values of dignity, personal autonomy, equality and
democracy that are inherent in the [Canadian] Charter [of Rights]".
If a Bill of Rights were to be adopted in the
UK, the TUC believes it must include rights to freedom of association
(including protections for trade unions and employers' associations),
the right to organise effectively (including the right to strike),
and the right to free collective bargaining. These rights should
be based upon standards recognised and protected by ILO Conventions
and the European Social Charter 1961.
19 December 2007
163 Employment Outlook 2004, Chapter 3, OECD,
Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2007) Poverty and wealth across
Britain 1968-2005 by Daniel Dorling, Jan Rigby, Ben Wheeler,
Dimitris Ballas and Bethan Thomas from the University of Sheffield,
Eldin Fahmy, David Gordon and Ruth Lupton. The Policy Press Back
Joint Committee on Human Rights (2004) The International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rihts: Twenty-first Report
of Session 2003-04. Back
Viking case (International Transport Workers' Federation and
Finnish Seamen's Union v' Viking Line Abp) Back
Health Services and Support-Facilities Subsector Bargaining Assn.
v. British Columbia, 2007 SCC 27 Back