3 – Regular violations of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index

United Kingdom

The ITUC affiliate in Great Britain is the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The Office for National Statistics estimates the number of people employed on a stand-by basis, “zero-hour contracts”, at between 200,000 to 250,000 which demonstrates the prevalence of underemployment in the UK. Under these contracts employees have to be available for work but are not guaranteed a minimum number of hours. These contracts create income insecurity for workers and also undermine family life. In fact, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development calculated that up to four per cent of workers could have been forced to accept such contracts. It has been revealed that Sports Direct employs around 20,000 of its 23,000 staff on these contracts. Other companies using zero-hour contracts extensively include cinema chain Cineworld, Buckingham Palace and JD Wetherspoon.

On 25 March 2013, the House of Lords debated the amendment of the Crime and Courts Bill which would prevent over 3,000 civil servants working for the National Crime Agency from taking strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
action in the future.

In practice

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Austerity measures undermining collective bargaining30-03-2018

The Trades Union Congress (TUC – UK) reported that in recent years, following the financial crisis and in line with austerity measures, the UK government imposed a pay cap on the public sector workforce – which in many parts of the public sector was not a subject of consultation. In recent years, the range of issues covered by collective bargaining collective bargaining The process of negotiating mutually acceptable terms and conditions of employment as well as regulating industrial relations between one or more workers’ representatives, trade unions, or trade union centres on the one hand and an employer, a group of employers or one or more employers’ organisations on the other.

See collective bargaining agreement
has become limited to pay, hours and holidays and in some workplaces, employers will only negotiate on pay. Moreover, due to the inadequacies of UK labour law and industrial relations industrial relations The individual and collective relations and dealings between workers and employers at the workplace, as well as the institutional interaction between unions, employers and also the government.

See social dialogue
system unions often face significantly difficulties securing recognition recognition The designation by a government agency of a union as the bargaining agent for workers in a given bargaining unit, or acceptance by an employer that its employees can be collectively represented by a union. with employers for the purposes of collective bargaining collective bargaining The process of negotiating mutually acceptable terms and conditions of employment as well as regulating industrial relations between one or more workers’ representatives, trade unions, or trade union centres on the one hand and an employer, a group of employers or one or more employers’ organisations on the other.

See collective bargaining agreement
. There is no national level bargaining in the UK and sector level bargaining is rare outside of the public sector.

Interference in union affairs permitted under the Trade Union Act 201630-03-2018

Under the Trade Union Act 2016, the UK Certification Officer, who regulates unions in the UK, will have the power to initiate an investigation into the internal affairs of independent trade unions (including elections for general secretaries, ballots for political funds, and political funding) even though no union member has made a complaint. As it is likely these powers will come into effect later in 2018, there is serious concern that the Certification Officer could initiate such investigations at the behest of employers and anti-union groups.

Agency workers vulnerable to blacklisting30-03-2018

In Smith v Carillion (JM) Limited, the UK Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that an agency worker was unable to bring a claim for detrimental treatment by reason of his trade union or health and safety activities under the UK blacklisting regulations because there was no implied contract between a blacklisted agency worker and the end-user of his services. This decision means that agency workers who may be vulnerable in the future to blacklisting due to the union membership and activities.

Strike action severely impeded by the Trade Union Act, 201630-03-2018

The major restrictions on trade unions activities, including on the ability for unions organise lawful industrial action industrial action Any form of action taken by a group of workers, a union or an employer during an industrial dispute to gain concessions from the other party, e.g. a strike, go-slow or an overtime ban, or a lockout on the part of the employer. , introduced by the Trade Union Act 2016 remain in place. This includes the 50 per cent turnout requirement for all strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
ballots and the requirement for a 40 per cent yes vote in ballots in important public services. Despite criticism from the ILO International Labour Organization A tripartite United Nations (UN) agency established in 1919 to promote working and living conditions. The main international body charged with developing and overseeing international labour standards.

See tripartism, ITUC Guide to international trade union rights
Committee of Experts, the 40 per cent yes vote requirement continues to apply to strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
ballots in the education and transport sectors. Unions also continue to face wider restrictions on the right to strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
in the UK, including a ban on all forms of secondary action and political strikes, complex notice and balloting rules and limited protections for striking workers.
Furthermore, following the Trade Union Act 2016, unions have been required to give the employer 14 days’ notice, (it was previously seven days), before industrial action industrial action Any form of action taken by a group of workers, a union or an employer during an industrial dispute to gain concessions from the other party, e.g. a strike, go-slow or an overtime ban, or a lockout on the part of the employer. can start. As a result, unions are required to provide at least one week’s notice to the employer that a ballot is taking place, allow at least two weeks for the ballot and then announce the ballot result before giving a further two weeks’ notice. This means at least five weeks will pass between the start of the balloting process and any industrial action industrial action Any form of action taken by a group of workers, a union or an employer during an industrial dispute to gain concessions from the other party, e.g. a strike, go-slow or an overtime ban, or a lockout on the part of the employer. .
Moreover, it is not uncommon for employers to deduct a full day’s pay even though individuals only take action for part of the day. UK law also provides very limited protection from dismissal for striking workers. Employees are protected from dismissal during a 12 week protected period after which employers can sack the entire workforce. Dismissal protections are also limited to employees, meaning those working in insecure work (zero hours contracts, agency workers and those in the gig economy) are not protected if they take strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
action.

Prison officers still denied collective labour rights30-03-2018

Prison officers can join trade unions. But they are banned by legislation from taking industrial action industrial action Any form of action taken by a group of workers, a union or an employer during an industrial dispute to gain concessions from the other party, e.g. a strike, go-slow or an overtime ban, or a lockout on the part of the employer. , even though the POA (Prison Officers Association) cannot collective bargain for better pay and conditions for its members. Instead pay and conditions are set by a pay review body. In 2014, the ILO International Labour Organization A tripartite United Nations (UN) agency established in 1919 to promote working and living conditions. The main international body charged with developing and overseeing international labour standards.

See tripartism, ITUC Guide to international trade union rights
Committee of Experts criticised the UK government for failing to put in place compensatory mechanisms to compensate workers for the ban on the right to strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
. No action has been taken by the government following this decision. Then in July 2017, the UK government for the first time applied in the UK courts for a permanent injunction injunction A court order prohibiting or preventing a certain course of action, such as calling or continuing with a strike. preventing the POA from ever taking industrial action industrial action Any form of action taken by a group of workers, a union or an employer during an industrial dispute to gain concessions from the other party, e.g. a strike, go-slow or an overtime ban, or a lockout on the part of the employer. , a decision which is being legally appealed by the union.

Trade unionists bring a case against construction firm over illegal blacklisting in front of the High Court05-02-2016

A decades-long controversy between construction workers and the firms that blacklisted them was brought in front of the High Court. Eight major construction firms have been facing legal action for compensation from 700 people represented by GMB, Ucatt and Unite unions. It was only last year that the firms admitted use of blacklisting tactics although the use of blacklisting in the construction industry was uncovered in 2009. It was at that time that offices of The Consulting Association (TCA) were raided by the Information Commissioner’s officers. They retrieved personal files on over 3,000 workers, activists and trade unionists blacklisted because considered “troublemakers”. The target was often directed against those active in trade unions or political campaigns, or those who raised health and safety issues on site.
The eight leading construction firms had issued an apology at the High Court in London for their involvement in the blacklist scheme. In February this year construction companies were ordered to pay out millions of pounds in compensation to 71 workers who had been illegally blacklisted.

Samaritans do not recognise unions26-07-2013
Interference in collective bargaining31-01-2013

In January 2013, the University of Exeter offered a 2 per cent pay increase but only if staff agreed to withdraw from national pay bargaining.

Anti-union discrimination28-02-2013

In February 2013, the Metropolitan Police announced that it would carry out a major investigation with respect to allegations that the police colluded with the blacklisting of construction workers. The investigation is to be supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The decision to hold the investigation follows mounting evidence that both the police and the security forces were involved in the blacklisting of construction workers via the Consulting Association.

In January 2013, the government announced that it will introduce further limits to compensation for unfair dismissal.

Agricultural workers threatened by abolition of wages board26-10-2011

Demonstrations took place outside parliament on 25 October in protest at the Public Bodies Bill, which if passed would lead to the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, the organisation for setting minimum wages and employment conditions in the agricultural sector. An amendment to take the AWB off the list of public bodies to be abolished was defeated in the House of Commons. The labour movement now fears downward pressure on terms and conditions for the estimated 150,000 people working in agriculture.

Further changes to the right to strike debated30-06-2011

In March 2011, the Court of Appeal lifted two injunctions against Aslef and the RMT who, following ballots, had called for strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
action in disputes with the London and Birmingham Midland Railway and Serco / Docklands Light Railway respectively. Injunctions had earlier been granted on procedural errors in the ballots. The Court of Appeal clarified the extent of the technical obligations on unions with regard to ballots. Building on its ruling in the British Airways case, it confirmed that minor and accidental ballot errors can be disregarded, if they are immaterial to the result. It opposed applying a ‘standard of perfection’ test that would ‘set traps or hurdles for the union which have no legitimate purpose or function’.

Nonetheless, this was still a topic of some controversy in 2011, with the employers’ organisation employers’ organisation A body of employers associated for the collective protection and promotion of their interests. Can engage in collective bargaining with trade unions or trade union organisations. , the Confederation of British Industry, calling on 17 June for changes to the law. In particular, they have called for a minimum threshold to be introduced requiring 40 per cent of members who are balloted to vote in favour before a strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
can be called. Under these proposals a simple majority of those voting would not longer be sufficient.

Using derecognition to push through cuts30-09-2011

In August 2011, Plymouth City Council derecognised Unison, the largest union among its staff, after it refused to sign a new collective agreement. Unison alleged that the agreement meant worse pay and conditions for staff and was potentially discriminatory and called derecognition an ‘aggressive and disproportionate response’. After the agreement was revised, Unison agreed to sign it if recognition recognition The designation by a government agency of a union as the bargaining agent for workers in a given bargaining unit, or acceptance by an employer that its employees can be collectively represented by a union. was restored. Re-recognition recognition The designation by a government agency of a union as the bargaining agent for workers in a given bargaining unit, or acceptance by an employer that its employees can be collectively represented by a union. was granted in mid-September.

The case underlined union concerns that, in the context of public spending cuts, employers elsewhere in the public sector (where recognition recognition The designation by a government agency of a union as the bargaining agent for workers in a given bargaining unit, or acceptance by an employer that its employees can be collectively represented by a union. is traditionally very high) might use derecognition to push through cuts in pay and conditions – either as a bargaining tactic or as a longer-term strategy.

Restrictions in freedom of association for agency workers13-05-2010

The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission published the results of an inquiry into the recruitment and treatment of agency workers in the meat and poultry processing sector in England and Wales. It found evidence of widespread poor treatment of agency workers both by agencies and by user enterprises. Moreover, it found that abusive treatment was less common in organised factories, and stated that “In workplaces where unions are recognised, or have a strong presence, we found that they provide a significant degree of protection for workers”. However, some workers reported that their right to freedom of association freedom of association The right to form and join the trade union of one’s choosing as well as the right of unions to operate freely and carry out their activities without undue interference.

See Guide to the ITUC international trade union rights framework
had been restricted and also reported instances where hostility of companies towards union activities discouraged people from joining a union for fear of retribution.

Anti-union tactics30-11-2009

Protection against anti-union discrimination anti-union discrimination Any practice that disadvantages a worker or a group of workers on grounds of their past, current or prospective trade union membership, their legitimate trade union activities, or their use of trade union services. Can constitute dismissal, transfer, demotion, harassment and the like.

See Guide to the ITUC international trade union rights framework

(unfair practices) only applies within the framework of organising organising The process of forming or joining a trade union, or inducing other workers to form or join one. a recognition recognition The designation by a government agency of a union as the bargaining agent for workers in a given bargaining unit, or acceptance by an employer that its employees can be collectively represented by a union. ballot, whereas a lot of employer misconduct may take place at a much earlier stage when the union is trying to organise, recruit and build up some kind of structure. Unscrupulous employers commonly employ a variety of anti-union tactics, including threats of closure of the plant and individual job loss, actual dismissals, pay and promotion inducements, holding a company ballot in advance of an independently conducted ballot, denial of any access to a union including preventing leaflets being given to the employees, holding anti-union meetings at the workplace, one-on-one meetings, and changes to the bargaining unit bargaining unit A group of workers within a particular company, establishment, industry or occupation that constitutes an appropriate unit for the purpose of collective bargaining.

See bargaining agent
- either splitting it or combining it with others.

In the shipping sector, contracts of employment have been found to expressly forbid individuals from contacting a recognised trade union so as to favour the conclusion of “workforce agreements” with workers’ representatives rather than collective agreements with trade unions, thereby weakening the terms and conditions of employment in this sector.

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