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JCHR launches inquiry into new strike legislation

20 January 2023

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has announced it will undertake legislative scrutiny of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill 2022.

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 10 January 2023 and received its second reading on 16 January. The Government has said that the Bill “will ensure crucial public services such as rail, ambulances, and fire services maintain a minimum service during industrial action, reducing risk to life and ensuring the public can still get to work.”

The European Convention on Human Rights does not explicitly protect the right to strike, but the European Court of Human Rights has found that strike action is protected under Article 11 of the Convention, the right to free assembly and association. The right to strike is recognised in domestic law. Unions are protected from legal action if strikes are organised in accordance with set rules

Under the Government’s proposals, there would be new powers for ministers to set regulations for minimum service levels that would need to be met in public services including health, fire and rescue, education and transport. In event of a strike, employers in these sectors would be able to issue notice to trade unions of the minimum service level that was to apply. Trade unions and workers would not have legal protection if minimum service levels were not reached, and could not claim unfair dismissal if sacked.

The inquiry will scrutinise the human rights implications of the Bill, in particular how it engages with Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the right to strike in other international agreements the UK has ratified.

Terms of reference

To help inform our work we would welcome evidence from interested groups and individuals. The Joint Committee on Human Rights invites submissions of no more than 2,000 words.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 10 February 2023

The Committee is interested in receiving views on the following:

1. Will the Bill as introduced interfere with the right to freedom of assembly and association under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights? What impact does the nature of the regulation making powers contained in the Bill have on any rights analysis?

2. Article 11(2) ECHR states that a restriction on Article 11 rights can only be justified if it is imposed in the interests of certain legitimate aims, including preventing disorder or crime and protecting the rights and freedoms of others. Does any interference with Article 11 rights that the Bill may pose have a legitimate aim?

a. Is the answer the same in respect of each of the different categories of services the Bill covers?

b. To what extent does the imposition of minimum service levels serve to protect human rights?

3. Article 11(2) also states that to be lawful any restriction on Article 11 rights must be “necessary in a democratic society”, which incorporates the need for proportionality. Is any interference with Article 11 rights the Bill may pose necessary and proportionate to a legitimate aim? In particular:

a. Is legislating to impose minimum service levels by regulations, without providing for seeking agreement between employers and trade unions, necessary and proportionate?

b. Is it necessary and proportionate to impose minimum service levels by regulations, rather than legislating for an independent arbitrator to set minimum service levels (as was the case in the Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill introduced in October 2022)? Is this affected by whether or not the strike involves the private sector or public sector?

c. Is the way in which the Bill would enforce minimum service levels, by removing legal protections for trade unions and workers, necessary and proportionate?

4. How is the compatibility of the Bill with Article 11 ECHR affected by wider laws or rules governing industrial action in the UK?

5. Does the Bill’s focus on particular sectors give rise to any concerns under Article 14 ECHR, the prohibition on discrimination in the enjoyment of Convention rights?

6. Does the Bill comply with the UK’s obligations under Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Article 6 of the European Social Charter?

7. Does the Bill give rise to any other human rights concerns, including concerns regarding the right to a fair trial under Article 6 ECHR?

Written submission

Submit your written evidence here

Further information

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