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Call for Evidence

Human Rights at Work


In this inquiry, we will look at the extent to which human rights are protected and respected in the workplace.

Work is a central aspect of people’s lives: for many it provides their principal source of income; it can contribute to a person’s sense of self-respect and dignity; and it can provide a sense of purpose to one’s life. Despite these benefits it has also been recognised that the inequality of economic power between workers and employers may leave workers vulnerable to human rights infringements. As Lord Reed said in the Supreme Court case Unison v Lord Chancellor:

Relationships between employers and employees are generally characterised by an imbalance of economic power. Recognising the vulnerability of employees to exploitation, discrimination, and other undesirable practices, and the social problems which can result, Parliament has long intervened in those relationships so as to confer statutory rights on employees….[1]

Human rights have a role to play in the regulation of all employment relationships. Although, human rights are generally thought of as applying between the individual and the State, rather than to private businesses, the European Court of Human Rights has recognised that States have positive duties to protect workers from breaches of the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Court has held that:


  • In many cases, States have an obligation to ensure employers do not unjustifiably interfere with employers’ freedom of association (as enshrined in Article 11 ECHR) by preventing them from joining and participating in the activities of trade unions.[2]
  • In the context of surveillance and workplace monitoring, national authorities, including courts, must ensure they have regard to the private and family life of workers (as enshrined in Article 8 ECHR) when considering whether dismissals are lawful.[3]
  • In certain cases, States have an obligation to protect the right to freedom of expression (as enshrined in Article 10 ECHR) from interference, including by private persons such as employers.[4]
  • States must have in place an adequate framework to protect workers from modern slavery (as prohibited by Article 4 EHCR).[5]
  • States must secure through their legislative frameworks the rights of workers not to suffer unjustified discrimination in relation to their substantive rights under the Convention (as prohibited by Article 14 ECHR).[6]

In addition to the protection afforded by the ECHR, which is incorporated into domestic law by the Human Rights Act 1998, in the UK there are a vast number of statutory rights which provide specific protection to workers. For example: the Equality Act 2010 protects workers from discrimination and confers a right to equal pay; the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 confers a right to a minimum wage and makes it a criminal offence for employers not to pay the minimum wage, and the Working Time Regulations 1998 (which is a piece of Retained EU Law that remains a part of UK domestic law) sets limits on working time. In this inquiry, we will set out to consider whether the current legal framework sufficiently protects and respects the rights of workers to be free from exploitation, to freedom of association, to private and family life, to freedom of religion and belief, and to freedom of expression.

Several other international human rights instruments are also relevant when considering the protection of workers’ rights in the UK. For example, Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has “the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment” and have the right “to form and join trade unions”. These rights are reflected in the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESCR). The UK has also ratified a significant number of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions, of which it was a founding member in 1919.

Areas of inquiry

We welcome evidence addressing the questions set out below. Submissions should be no longer than 1,500 words. The deadline for submissions is 13th April 2023. 

This inquiry is separate to our legislative scrutiny of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. Those wishing to make a submission to that scrutiny can find the terms of reference and process for submitting evidence here.

Freedom of association and the right to strike

  • Does the current law effectively protect the rights of trade unions and workers to take industrial action under Article 11 ECHR? Does the law effectively protect the right to strike for the purposes of other international human rights instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Labour Organisation Conventions?

The right to privacy and surveillance at work

  • What forms of surveillance, if any, that are used to monitor workers raise concerns under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to private and family life)? Are there any associated concerns under Article 14 (freedom from discrimination)?
  • What is the legal framework in the UK that governs surveillance in the workplace?
  • Where surveillance is used to monitor workers, does the current legal framework adequately protect their Article 8 right to private and family life? If not, what changes need to be made to ensure it does?

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion and freedom of expression in the workplace

  • Does domestic law strike the right balance between workers’ Article 9 right to freedom of religion or belief and the rights of employers? If not, what changes are needed?
  • Does domestic law strike the right balance between workers’ Article 10 right to freedom of expression and the rights of employers? If not, what changes are needed?
  • Does domestic law provide adequate protection for the rights of workers to be free from harassment at work by third parties on account of their religion or beliefs?

Labour market exploitation

  • What is the current legal and policy framework for tackling labour exploitation in the UK? Is that framework effective to protect workers’ rights under Article 4 ECHR, which prohibits slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour?
  • Are there any improvements that could be made to better tackle exploitative labour practices which are contrary to Article 4 in the UK?
  • Do workers from particular groups or in precarious employment disproportionately experience labour market exploitation? Does this raise concerns under Article 14 ECHR (freedom from discrimination)?

Retained EU Law and workers’ rights

  • To what extent is the UK's compliance with its human rights obligations, in relation to the protection of workers, currently dependent on retained EU law?

International human rights treaties

  • Does the UK effectively comply with its international obligations to protect workers’ rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, and International Labour Organisation Conventions? If not, what improvements should be made?

Important information about making a submission

In line with the general practice of select committees, the Joint Committee on Human Rights is not able to take up individual cases, including employment disputes. If you would like help with an employment dispute you should contact ACAS (more information here). If you would like political support or advice you may wish to contact your local Member of Parliament.

The Committee will decide whether to accept a submission and whether to publish it on its website.  All written evidence will be considered by the Committee, whether or not it is published. If your submission is accepted by the Committee, it will usually be published online and will be available permanently for anyone to view. It cannot be changed or removed. If you have included your name or any personal information in your submission, that will normally be published too. Please consider carefully how much personal information you need to share. If you include personal information about other people in your submission, the Committee may decide not to publish it. Your contact details will never be published.

If you would like to ask the Committee to accept your submission confidentially (meaning it will not be published), please say so the start of your evidence, and tell us why. This lets the Committee know what you would like but the final decision will be taken by the Committee.

If your evidence raises any safeguarding concerns about you or other people, then the Committee has a responsibility to raise these with the appropriate safeguarding authority. If you have immediate safeguarding concerns about yourself or someone else or specific allegations of illegal practices, you should contact the Police on 999.

We cannot publish submissions that mention ongoing legal cases due to Parliament’s sub judice rule – contact us if you are not sure what this means for you.


[1] R (on the application of UNISON) v Lord Chancellor [2017] UKSC 51, para 6.

[2] Wilson and National Union of Journalists v UK [2002] ECHR 552

[3] Bărbulescu v. Romania (Application no. 61496/08)

[4] Vogt v Germany (1996) 21 EHRR 205; Palomo Sanchez v. Spain [2011] ECHR 1319.

[5] Siladin v France (Application no. 73316/01), C.N. v. the United Kingdom (Application no. 4239/08)

[6] Hoppen v Lithuania (Application no. 976/20)

This call for written evidence has now closed.

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