UNISON is fighting to protect the right to strike as the controversial new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill reaches its crucial debate stage in the House of Lords this Monday (15 November).
The bill spans a wide range of areas and would introduce legislation on several issues that UNISON has long campaigned on and would support, such as defending frontline public sector workers from attack.
However, the bill also contains two clauses (55 and 56) which redefine the conditions in which police may take restrictive action against public assemblies. These conditions include those gatherings that, “cause serious disruption to the life of the community” or which “cause serious disruption to the activities of organisations”.
UNISON has raised strong concerns since the bill was first brought to and rushed through the House of Commons in March this year that these vaguely defined provisions could be used to clamp down on legitimate trade union activity, such as striking and picketing – especially when these activities concern public services.
Speaking on the issue in March, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “It seems a deliberate re-interpretation, designed to substantially restrict protests and demonstrations going forward, to strip them of the inherent impact that might otherwise be permitted in law.
“It’s a case of … feel free to protest, but in small numbers, over there out of the way, don’t draw attention to yourselves and for heaven’s sake, make sure your elected representatives aren’t disturbed!
“The point of a demonstration is to be heard and to have an impact – the explicit aim of this bill seems to be to minimise any impact.”
UNISON also believes it is entirely unacceptable that the secretary of state will have the power to decide the meaning of “serious disruption to the activities of organisations” and “serious disruption to the life of the community” through regulations that would be imposed unilaterally by the government without a debate in Parliament.
As such, UNISON is supporting a House of Lords amendment (304) to the bill which would add clear and specific exemptions for legitimate trade union activity to clause 56 of the bill.