The UK’s main trade union body has reported the government to the UN labor standards body for alleged attacks on workers’ right to strike.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said ministers had taken several steps to breach the right to strike, including a new law allowing companies to use agency workers to break strikes and a proposed minimum level of service in transport and other “critical” sectors. .
The submission to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency that sets standards for workers around the world, follows a promise from Liz Truss – who will be named Prime Minister after being named the winner of the race for Tory leadership on Monday – pledged to crack down on unions in the first 30 days in office.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said the government was seeking to limit workers’ ability to negotiate better wages just as inflationary pressures were peaking.
“The right to strike is a fundamental freedom,” she said. “But the Conservative government attacks him at every opportunity. Threatening this right tilts the balance of power too far in favor of employers and violates the legal obligations that ministers have undertaken in government.
Relations between the unions and the government have almost completely broken down in recent months, as low unemployment and rapidly rising prices have led to an increase in the number of industrial disputes. This turned into a wave of strikes for higher pay and better conditions in sectors ranging from railway and port workers to Royal Mail employees and even lawyers.
The 31-page TUC report, seen by the Guardian, details a range of legislative changes and proposals it says would make it harder to strike. These changes would impinge on the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining which should be guaranteed by ILO conventions ratified by the United Kingdom, argued the union organization.
He wrote: ‘The TUC is extremely concerned that these plans would seriously infringe on trade union rights […] in particular by making any effective industrial action extremely difficult.
If it decides the complaint has merit, the ILO has the power to censure the UK as a signatory to its conventions in reports. This could be embarrassing for the government, which regularly comments on rights in other countries. However, the ILO does not have the power to intervene directly in UK legislation.
The government has already introduced some laws this year that aim to limit the influence of trade unions. In July, MPs passed a law allowing companies to employ temporary workers to replace strikers, despite objections from the Confederation of Recruitment and Employment, a lobby group for companies in the sector.
Kwasi Kwarteng, who is tipped to be Truss’ chancellor, has previously said the changes to “heavyweight, 1970s-style restrictions” are needed to curb “militant union action”.
Truss threatened to impose legal minimum service levels on critical national infrastructure. This could significantly limit the ability of teachers, postal workers and the energy sector to go on strike, as well as transport workers who staged several strikes across the country this summer.
The prime minister wanted during the Tory leadership campaign to pose as the political heiress of Margaret Thatcher, who fought against unions in the 1980s. In July, Truss said: ‘I will do whatever who is in my power to ensure that the militant action of unions can no longer cripple the vital services on which hard workers rely.”
Other changes suggested by the current transport secretary, Grant Shapps, would impose more detailed technical requirements before unions can take industrial action.
They include banning strikes by different unions at the same workplace, limiting the number of pickets in critical infrastructure, requiring a 60-day “cooling-off period” between strikes and increased minimum notice periods for strikes. Shapps also said the government would seek to “ban bullying language”, without detailing how that would work.
TUC slams government at UN for attacks on right to strike