10 April 2014 #Employment
In a landmark case brought by the RMT union against the UK in the European Court of Human Rights, the Court has ruled that the UK’s laws banning secondary industrial action do not violate the right to freedom of association under the European Convention on Human Rights. RMT v UK. The judgment is not final as the decision could be referred to the Court’s Grand Chamber.
The case arose after the RMT abandoned secondary action against a rail contractor.
The unanimous decision of the Court was that there was no breach of Article 11 of the Convention, which guarantees the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association with others. This is the first time that the European Court of Human Rights has had to address the question of whether the right to secondary action falls within the scope of Article 11. The Court ruled that the union could rely on Article 11. Importantly, it found that secondary action was protected under the relevant International Labour Organisation Convention and the European Social Charter. Further, and as regards the situation in other contracting states, the Court observed that many of them had a long-established practice of accepting secondary strikes as a lawful form of trade union action.
Therefore the Court accepted that the statutory ban on secondary action had interfered with the union`s right to freedom of association. However, it was satisfied that the ban was justified in that it had pursued the legitimate aim of protecting the rights and freedoms of others, which included not only the employer directly involved in the industrial dispute but also the wider interests of the domestic economy and the public potentially affected by the disruption of secondary industrial action, which could be on a scale greater than primary strike action.
The majority of the ECHR also found that it had no competence to assess whether or not UK law complied with the ILO`s charter or the European Social Charter.
As regards a separate case brought by the union, the ECHR dismissed as inadmissible its challenge to the UK`s provisions on strike ballot notice provisions, noting that the RMT had complied with the UK`s requirements and led a successful strike despite the procedural requirements of UK law. There was no case that the union’s rights had been interfered with.