A recent Court of Appeal ruling that confirmed UK legislation does not protect striking employees from action short of dismissal has ‘given bosses the green light to discipline staff who strike’, a union has claimed.
Unison said employers may feel “emboldened to mistreat employees” who take part in organised strikes following the recent Mercer v Alternative Future Group & Another judgment. It said it would lodge an appeal against the ruling.
The case involved a trade union representative Ms Mercer, who was suspended by care provider Alternative Futures Group after taking part in a strike over cuts to pay for sleep-in shifts.
She took a claim for detriment to an employment tribunal and was unsuccessful, but succeeded on appeal at the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
Unison argued on her behalf that Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights – incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998 – protects workers who take industrial action against their employer. The union said this meant they should not be disciplined or treated unfairly because they had taken part in industrial action, which the EAT agreed with.
Trade union detriment
However, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng intervened in the case and took an appeal against the EAT’s decision to the Court of Appeal. This resulted in the EAT’s ruling being overturned.
The government’s intervention means that a loophole in protection for striking workers continues, Unison claims. This is because the tribunal found the Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 was incompatible with international human rights law.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Bad bosses will be rubbing their hands with glee. This backwards step gives employers the green light to target staff who stand up to them.
“Employees only get involved in disputes at work as a last resort. But they often have little other option when employers behave badly.
“The court should have been much bolder, particularly after its own judgment said that a failure to protect striking workers could put the UK in breach of international human rights law. P&O Ferries’ appalling sacking of hundreds of workers demonstrates that UK employment law is no deterrent.
“The effect of this decision will be that employees will be fearful of challenging unfair treatment. The government should be protecting their rights, not undermining them.”