Human rights groups raise alarm over TU Bill

THREE leading human rights groups in Britain last Monday issued a joint statement condemning the Government’s proposed Trade Union Bill as a serious threat to workers’ human rights.

Liberty, the British Institute for Human Rights (BIHR) and Amnesty International issued this statement:

“The Government’s plans to significantly restrict trade union rights — set out in the Trade Union Bill — represent a major attack on civil liberties in the UK.

“By placing more legal hurdles in the way of unions organising strike action, the Trade Union Bill will undermine ordinary people’s ability to organise together to protect their jobs, livelihoods and the quality of their working lives.

“It will introduce harsher restrictions on those who picket peacefully outside workplaces — even though pickets are already more regulated than any other kind of protest.

“Unions will be required to appoint picket supervisors who must wear armbands and carry letters of authorisation, the absence of which could expose their unions to legal action.

“Further proposals out for consultation could mean unions are required to provide a protest plan to employers, police, and other State regulators, revealing in advance if they plan to use social media, including Twitter and Facebook during their campaign and what they plan to set out on websites and blogs.

“Taken together the unprecedented measures in the Bill would hamper people’s basic rights to protest and shift even more power from the employee to the employer.

“It is hard to see the aim of this bill as anything but seeking to undermine the rights of all working people. We owe so many of our employment protections to Trade Unions and we join them in opposing this Bill.”

The Trade Union Bill has already been heavily criticised after the Government published its plans without conducting an impact assessment. Campaigners are stepping up their efforts against it as public consultation closes on 9th September.

Among the measures most concerning to the civil liberty groups are plans to extend strict new requirements on picketing supervisors to everyone present at a strike protest.


The original plans set out in the Trade Union Bill would have required only a picketing supervisor to hand over his name and contact details to police, to wear an armband, and to carry a letter of authorisation issued by the union.

But the Government’s consultation raises the prospect of going even further and requiring all those present at a picket having to do the same.

Liberty has described it as “authoritarian” and would discourage workers from joining pickets in fear of being blacklisted by employers and police.

The consultation asks: “Are there other practices that should be directly legally enforceable — for example, training or a requirement for all pickets to be properly identifiable in the same way as the supervisor?”

Liberty said that demanding that all picketers hand over contact details to police would signal a “hark back to historical problems” between trade unions and the authorities.

This was a reference to widespread allegations that the police and security services previously passed on names and contact details of trade union members to a database that firms consulted before offering people jobs.

“With a history of blacklisting it’s entirely understandable why trade union members don’t want to identify themselves to the police and give the police their phone numbers,” Sara Ogilvie, policy officer at Liberty, said, warning that strike action would soon cease to exist in Britain if the proposals went ahead.

The proposed Bill would also constitute a “clear breach” of Britain’s obligations under international labour standards, experts at Liberty have claimed.

Proposals such as the requirement that unions count abstentions in ballots as “no” votes that would also be deemed illegal under International Labour Organisation standards, of which Britain is a member.

The Government wants to curtail strike action by requiring a turnout of at least 50 per cent of union members for industrial action to be legal. There would also be an additional requirement in “important” public services — that strikes be supported by at least 40 per cent of all those eligible to vote.

This would mean that any worker who abstains or forgets to return their ballot paper would be deemed to be opposing the move — contravening ILO standards.

“We definitely think the Government is playing fast and loose with its international obligations,” said Ogilvie.