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The UK’s largest trade union has won a case against the government over a legal loophole that meant workers weren’t protected from being punished by their employer for exercising their right to strike. 

Judges in the UK Supreme Court ruled that bosses should no longer be able to discipline their staff for taking part in legal strike action, serving the UK government a “crushing defeat” in the courts, leader of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Paul Nowak said.

Nowak hailed it as a “monumental victory” for Unison and the union movement as a whole, while Unison leader Christina McAnea said it was the “most important industrial action case for decades.”

Unison had taken the case to the court on behalf of care worker Fiona Mercer, who was initially involved in an employment tribunal case against her then employer Alternative Futures Group (AFG). 

The union said Mercer had been singled out, suspended and barred from going to work by her employer after raising a dispute over AFG’s plan to cut payments to care staff who did sleep-in shifts. 

She won her case at the employment appeal tribunal, however the then Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng decided to intervene and take the case to the Court of Appeal, which then reversed the decision. 

Back to square one, this led Unison to take the case on behalf of Mercer to the Supreme Court, which concluded with the judgement on Wednesday that found the UK law breaches international law by failing to protect workers. 

Commenting on the victory, Christina McAnea said: “It’s a victory for every employee who might one day want to challenge something bad or unfair their employer has done.

“Rogue bosses won’t like it one bit. They’ll no longer be able to punish or ill-treat anyone who dares to take strike action to try to solve any problems at work. 

“No one strikes on a whim. There are many legal hoops to be jumped through first. But when a worker decides to walk out, they should be able to do so, safe in the knowledge they won’t be victimised by a spiteful boss.

“The government must now close this loophole promptly. It won’t cost any money and isn’t difficult to do. Today is a day to celebrate.”

Paul Nowak said the judgement was another “crushing legal defeat” to the Conservative Government’s “oppressive strike laws”. 

“This government is racking up embarrassing legal defeats over its attacks on the right to strike, after the High Court recently ruled its strike-breaking agency worker regulations were illegal,” said Nowak. 

“This is a badge of shame for the Conservatives. They are on the side of bad bosses – not working people

“This judgement sends a signal to the Conservatives and rogue employers up and down the country. Workers have a fundamental right to strike to defend their pay and conditions and should not be punished for exercising it.”

Fiona Mercer said: “I’m delighted at today’s outcome. Although it won’t change the way I was treated, it means irresponsible employers will now think twice before behaving badly towards their unhappy staff. If they single strikers out for ill-treatment, they’ll now be breaking the law.”

(Image credit: David Ford / Flickr)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

The post ‘Monumental victory’: Union wins legal battle with government over ‘oppressive strike laws’ appeared first on Left Foot Forward: Leading the UK’s progressive debate.

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