The Supreme Court has granted permission for UNISON to bring a legal challenge that could provide greater protection for striking workers, says the union today (Monday).
UNISON is seeking to overturn a Court of Appeal decision from earlier this year that enables employers to discipline staff who take lawful industrial action.
The union is acting on behalf of care worker and UNISON member Fiona Mercer, who originally brought a case in 2019 against the Alternative Futures Group (AFG), a charity in the north west of England.
While UK law prevents employers from sacking workers involved in strikes or other workplace disputes, it does not stop unscrupulous employers from taking disciplinary action or generally making life difficult, says the union.
Fiona had been part of a dispute over AFG’s plans to cut payments to care staff working sleep-in shifts. As a result, she was suspended and prevented from attending work by the charity.
Her case against AFG eventually went to an employment appeal tribunal (EAT). That found in her favour and said she should not be treated unfairly for having taken part in industrial action. The tribunal also decided that the UK wasn’t complying with international law.
However, the then business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng intervened when the case went to the Court of Appeal, which then reversed the EAT decision. This means bad employers now have little to stop them mistreating workers who strike, says UNISON.
UNISON 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 Supreme Court hearing is likely to be in the latter half of next year.
Notes to editors:
– Further details of the case can be found here and the Court of Appeal judgment delivered in March 2022 is here.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.