News

Strike action: union challenges legal loophole to protect staff

Unison looking to overturn Court of Appeal decision earlier this year that it claims enables employers to discipline staff who go on strike lawfully

Unison looking to overturn Court of Appeal decision earlier this year that it claims enables employers to discipline staff who go on strike lawfully

A long-running dispute over whether employers can discipline staff who go on strike is set to be heard in the UK’s highest court in a bid to fix a ‘glaring’ legal loophole.

The Supreme Court has given Unison permission to bring a legal challenge that could provide more protection for workers who take part in industrial action.

Union challenge comes as thousands of nurses prepare to walk out for first time in NHS history

The union is looking to overturn a Court of Appeal decision from earlier this year that it claims enables employers to

Unison looking to overturn Court of Appeal decision earlier this year that it claims enables employers to discipline staff who go on strike lawfully

Unison looking to overturn Court of Appeal decision that it claims enables employers to discipline staff who go on strike lawfully
Picture: Alamy

A long-running dispute over whether employers can discipline staff who go on strike is set to be heard in the UK’s highest court in a bid to fix a ‘glaring’ legal loophole.

The Supreme Court has given Unison permission to bring a legal challenge that could provide more protection for workers who take part in industrial action.

Union challenge comes as thousands of nurses prepare to walk out for first time in NHS history

The union is looking to overturn a Court of Appeal decision from earlier this year that it claims enables employers to discipline staff who decide to go on strike lawfully. It comes as tens of thousands of nurses prepare to walk out for the first time in NHS history over poor pay and patient safety concerns.

Unison is acting on behalf of care worker Fiona Mercer who was suspended in 2019 for organising and taking part in industrial action against the charity she worked for. Alternative Futures Group was planning to cut payments to care staff working ‘sleep-in shifts’ – where workers are required to sleep at a residence overnight with the possibility of providing care when they wake.

Ms Mercer’s suspension eventually went to an employment appeal tribunal, which found she should not have been treated unfairly for taking part in industrial action. But the then-business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng stepped in when the case went to the Court of Appeal, which then reversed the tribunal’s decision.

Chance to ‘fix glaring legal loophole’ for employees to exercise their rights, says Unison

Unison said while UK law prevents employers from sacking workers involved in strikes or other workplace disputes, there is nothing in the law to stop ‘unscrupulous’ employers from taking disciplinary action or generally making life difficult for workers who choose to speak up – claiming this could be at risk of being at odds with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The union’s general secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘This is a chance to fix a glaring legal loophole. Employees only strike as a last resort and shouldn’t face punishment for protesting about their employer’s behaviour.

‘Hundreds of thousands of workers are thinking about industrial action as they struggle to cope with low pay in the face of soaring prices. Everyone must be able to exercise their rights without fearing they’ll be treated unfairly for standing up for themselves at work.’

The Nursing and Midwifery Council has made it clear that nurses who choose to strike will not face the threat of fitness to practise action.

Meanwhile, some 11 trade unions have launched separate legal action against the Government over new rules that will allow agency and bank staff to fill in for nurses and other healthcare workers who take to picket lines.


In other news

Sign up to continue reading for FREE

OR

Unlock full access to RCNi Plus today

Save over 50% on your first three months:

  • Customisable clinical dashboard featuring 200+ topics
  • Unlimited online access to all 10 RCNi Journals including Nursing Older People
  • RCNi Learning featuring 180+ RCN accredited learning modules
  • NMC-compliant RCNi Portfolio to build evidence for revalidation
  • Personalised newsletters tailored to your interests

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs