Nov 2008 - Employment Bill mustn’t water down union rights

01 June 2013

WHY are politicians so afraid of giving unions the right to run their own affairs? Trade unions are made up of some of the most conscientious, selfless and concerned people in our country. Hundreds of thousands of individuals work for nothing to represent their colleagues in the work-place. It is a fact that wages, safety and conditions are better in work-places that have unions.


Recent events in the City have shown that we are far from being the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’. Yet politicians will go to all kinds of lengths to safeguard the ‘free market’ for speculators. To suggest any restrictions on their behaviour is considered heresy.


At the same time the House of Lords thinks it is perfectly reasonable to restrict what unions can do – even to the extent of who we admit as members. I honestly believed that this argument was ended in March 2005 when our union secured an important judgement in the European Court of Human Rights. Existing UK law at the time required us to take back into membership a BNP member we had expelled.


We said it was an infringement of our freedom of association not to be able to expel someone in an organisation with views in complete conflict with our own. The European Court agreed, saying that ‘just as a worker should be free to join or not join a union, so is a trade union equally free to choose its members’. It went on express ‘the right of trade unions to draw up their own rules and to administer their own affairs’.


I hoped that this ruling might herald a new era where governments accepted that trade unions should be as ‘free’ as the markets, and would desist from interfering in our affairs. My optimism betrayed me.


The House of Lords has been discussing – or rather, emasculating – an Employment Bill which the government introduced last year. It soon emerged that their noble lords don’t accept the right of working people to form free and effective trade unions, with the ability to engage in collective bargaining and to withdraw labour. Yet these are basic rights which are accepted as fundamental in international law and are enshrined in treaties which are binding on the UK. Their revised section 18 could make it even more difficult to expel people who work against our interests.


This isn’t just about trade union rights. It is about human rights and basic freedoms.

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