A Tory MP wants to change the law to ban junior doctors and rail workers from striking

Doctors and Rail Workers Strike
Steve Topple

On Tuesday 24 January, a Conservative MP will put forward a bill in parliament which could see the rights of millions of people in the UK eroded. Ignoring warnings from the UN that it may break international law, Chris Philp, the MP for Croydon South, wants to pass legislation that will stop workers like junior doctors from striking. Which could affect everyone in the UK.

Tory rail-roading

Philp wants the law to ban industrial action by workers in “critical” national services. Unless a High Court judge says the action is “reasonable”. Philp’s definition of “critical” includes rail, tube, bus and NHS workers. His bill comes during the continued dispute between Southern Rail and trade unions, passengers and disability campaigners. Philp said trade unions had “abused” their right to strike by taking “completely unreasonable” industrial action against Southern Rail.

And he stressed that his bill would mean:

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A High Court judge would weigh up what it is the strikers are striking over on the one hand versus the impact on the public on the other to make sure it is reasonable and proportionate… [The bill] just says that the general public also have a right to get to work and to get home to see their loved ones.

Cocksure

Parliament will debate Philp’s ‘Industrial Action (Protection of Critical National Services)’ bill under the ’10 minute rule’ motion device. It allows MPs to put forward their own laws. And Philp is confident that MPs will pass his bill, saying he would be “astonished if anyone stood up and said that they supported strikes that were unreasonable and disproportionate”.

But the bill ignores previous warnings from the UN over the government’s attitude towards strikes.

The Trade Union Act, which passed into law in May 2016, outlines that the law now classes transport workers as an “essential service”. This means that 40% of all union members need to vote for strike action in order for it to happen.

But in February 2016, the UN warned the government it could be breaking international labour laws with the act. The UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) annual report [pdf] said that the government should have modified the bill, so transport workers were not deemed “essential services”. Treating transport workers as essential services breaches the ILO guidelines on the right to strike (section: “Essential services and emergency situations”).

Breaching international law?

The government has ignored the UN warning over this. But Philp’s bill may be a further breach of ILO legislation. The government has already broken UN regulations on essential services. So Philp’s bill may then be in breach of international law on the right to strike. As the ILO outlines:

The right to strike is recognized by the ILO’s supervisory bodies as an intrinsic corollary of the right to organise protected by Convention No. 87…

The right to strike is also recognized in international and regional instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 (Article 8(1)(d)), the Inter-American Charter of Social Guarantees of 1948 (Article 27), the European Social Charter of 1961 (Article 6(4)) and the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1988 (Article 8(1)(b)).

Trampling over workers’ rights and public safety?

Philp’s bill could open the floodgates for banning strikes by workers in the NHS, on tubes and buses. And this could have huge ramifications, especially within the NHS, for every person in the UK. Because when workers are standing up against employers over safety fears, they are really fighting for us all.

The Canary approached Chris Philp for comment but none was received at the time of publication.

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Featured image via Flickr/The Association of British Commuters

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