Bodies from both the UK and EU have warned that the Tory government’s proposed anti-strike laws. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has said that one leading legal academic has gone so far as to say that the minimum service levels in the bill could breach post-Brexit commitments – putting the UK on a collision course with the EU.
Anti-strike laws: overarching concerns in the UK and EU
More than 80 businesses, unions and civil society organisations have issued a joint statement as part of the UK and EU Domestic Advisory Groups – two watchdogs which are charged with holding the UK government and EU to account on their commitments under the post-Brexit deal.
The joint statement says they recognise the concerns about the impact of the Strikes Act on the UK government’s legal obligations under the deal, which stipulates that workers’ rights must not be lowered from the level they were at in 2020.
The UK and EU post-Brexit watchdogs add that they will be monitoring for breaches and will continue to scrutinise the UK government on this new law.
The EU Commission recently put its concerns about the Strikes Act to the UK government.
The joint statement also flags concerns on plans to repeal EU-derived rights with the Retained EU Law Act.
The joint statement comes as a leading legal academic warns that the Strikes Act risks putting the UK on a collision course with the EU.
Federico Ortino, professor of international economic law at King’s College London, says that the anti-strike laws could put the UK in breach of its legal obligations under the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
Ortino warns that this breach could “affect trade and investment between the EU and UK”.
Minimum service levels in rail, the ambulance service, and border security are making their way through parliament this week.
Ministers have said these new rules will be rushed into force by the end of the year.
Ministers are also consulting on rules affecting workers in hospital settings, schools, universities and fire services.
This is despite warnings from unions and employer groups that the anti-strike laws are unworkable.
The laws will mean that when workers lawfully vote to strike, they could be forced to attend work – and sacked if they don’t comply.
TUC research found a massive one in five workers in Britain – or 5.5 million workers – are at risk of losing their right to strike as a result of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act.
The TUC will hold a special congress to discuss the next stage of campaigning against the Conservatives’ anti-strike laws. The event will take place at Congress House on Saturday 9 December 2023, from 10am-1pm.
Ortino said of the anti-strike laws:
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 runs the risk of violating some of the labour-related obligations imposed by the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
In particular, as it imposes greater restrictions on the right to strike in the covered sectors, the Act may contravene Article 387 TCA, which prohibits the weakening or reduction of a Party’s labour levels of protection. Such greater restrictions have at least the potential to affect trade and investment between the EU and UK.
Moreover, the Act may also contradict Article 399 TCA, which requires to respect and implement international recognised core labour standards, including those relating to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said:
The UK’s new laws are an attack on the fundamental right to strike – they’re unworkable, undemocratic and very likely unlawful.
The UK already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in Europe. Now the Conservatives want to make it even harder for people to win fair pay and conditions.
In their rush to attack unions, the government risks threatening UK trade with Europe.
This legislation could put the UK in breach of its post-Brexit trade agreement with the EU. That could mean financial penalties on the UK.
It’s little wonder business, unions and civil society have come together to warn about this draconian legislation. The last thing they need is the UK on a collision course with the EU.
That’s bad for trade. And it’s bad for workers and their jobs.
Ministers are playing fast and loose with international commitments because they want to distract from their appalling economic record.
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