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Right to strike fight reaches Europe

25 May 2010

A fresh attack on UK union law has been launched as the RMT argues current precedent on the right to strike contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights.

The transport union is expected to lodge papers with the European Court of Human Rights later today claiming the collapse of two of its recent strike actions was caused by judgments which undermine article 11 of the ECHR, which enshrines the right to strike.

The case centres on an injunction granted in favour of EDF Energy in October last year which blocked strike action due to problems with the wording of the ballot paper.

It will also attack a 2007 judgment which ruled employees at Jarvis plc could not strike in solidarity with their former colleagues who had recently been transferred to the closely connected firm Hydrex.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: “The shackles that the anti-trade union laws have thrown around workers in this country seeking to take industrial action in defence of jobs and working conditions have got tighter and tighter in the past year and the EDF and Hydrex cases last autumn were pivotal with ramifications for the entire trade union movement.

“RMT is in no doubt that the fundamental human right to withdraw labour has been systematically undermined.

“This is clearly shown by the EDF and Hydrex cases and we have no option but to take these matters to the European court in a bid to protect the rights of our members and of working people in Britain.”

The union will be represented by RMT’s standing counsel John Hendy QC, of Old Square Chambers, who last week led Unite the union to victory in an appeal against a judgment which blocked British Airways cabin crew from striking based on a failure to take all necessary steps to notify members of 11 spoilt ballot papers.

Quashing the High Court’s decision to grant BA’s demand for an injunction, the appeal court judges criticised a growing trend for firms seeking solutions to industrial disputes via the courts, which has led to a build up of precedent which the unions believe is eating away at already weak legislation.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, said: "Legal processes do not constitute mediation. They often serve to inflame rather than mollify the feelings of those involved."

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