UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Friday, 4 March 2011

If the ILO didn't exist we would have to invent it

In a week where the UK Tory Government cut funding to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), UNISON hosted a seminar on its role in protecting labour rights and decent work with particular reference to public services:  http://www.tuc.org.uk/international/tuc-19251-f0.cfm

Often misunderstood the simple truth is if the ILO didn’t exist we would have to invent it, as who could argue against a United Nations body responsible for the promotion of rights at work, the encouragement of decent employment opportunities, the enhancement of social protection and the improvement of dialogue between workers, governments and employers in respect of work related issues.

Over its ninety year history it has established numerous international legal instruments called ‘conventions’ that protect labour rights worldwide. It is incumbent on countries to adopt these conventions and two of the most important are 87 and 98 on freedom of association, the right to organise and collective bargaining.

Those countries that have not adopted these conventions can be found here http://www.ictur.org/

Daniel Blackburn the Director of ICTUR also highlighted the role the European Social Charter has on employment law and quoted the 29th Report by the European Union into the UK which is highly critical of the minimum wage (the rate cannot be considered fair as it falls too far behind the average national wage) and the lack of a positive right to strike.

Professor Keith Ewing reminded those present of the Demir v Turkey case

This case is a landmark judgement in the European Court of Human Rights concerning Article 11 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental freedoms:

It states:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.

Demir affirmed the fundamental right of workers to engage in collective bargaining and take collective action to achieve that end.

The ECHR noted the declaration of the right in Article 11(1) and the restrictions under Article 11(2). It held that these had to be strictly construed and that they could not impair the very essence of the right to organise.

Restrictions imposed by the state thus had to be shown to be legitimate and civil servants could not be treated as ‘members of the administration of the state’. The court went on to rule that the right to collectively bargain with an employer in principle had become one of the essential elements of the right to form and join trade unions, guaranteed under Article 11.

Keith outlined the opportunities this gives unions in the UK to challenge the anti trade union laws and called on UNISON to

· Engage positively with the ILO Freedom of Association committee. Every hostile act by an employer needs to be logged there as this will enable a body of evidence to be built up against the UK. The strongest case recently involved BALPA but all unions will have examples that need to be put in as complaints

· As the TUC Social Rights Committee is the official social partner that represents us at the ILO we need to work closely with them on submitting all complaints

· All unions but especially the bigger ones now need to identify those cases to send to Strasbourg and the European court and challenge non compliance like in the Demir case brought by the Turkish Public Service union. Keith urged every union to do this, as it was an ideal no risk/ low cost opportunity for the movement to establish some clear lines in the sand that governments and employers cannot cross. “You cannot lose what has already been taken away but we could recover it” he said to applause.

Bronwyn McKenna Assistant General Secretary of UNISON reminded everyone that given the anticipated onslaught from the Tories against workers rights (they have five years worth of anti worker legislation waiting in the wings) we must now use every opportunity that exists to challenge these attacks and both the ILO and the European Court of Human Rights can be important allies in that battle.

This was a timely, extremely interesting and relevant seminar.

Bob Oram