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Issue #1492      9 March 2011

UK:

Major victory for transport union

Britain’s transport union RMT has secured a major victory in the Court of Appeal over UK strike laws that will pave the way for millions to take action over cuts to jobs and services in the months ahead.

RMT had appealed an injunction granted in the High Court in January preventing a 48 hour strike on Docklands Light Railway. That injunction – which would have taken the anti-trade union laws in the country to within a whisker of effectively banning the right to strike – has been overturned in the Court of Appeal.

The judgment has massive implications for ongoing disputes, including on Arriva Trains Wales and London Underground, and clears a path for unions in all sectors planning ballots over jobs, pensions and cuts to living standards.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said:

“This morning’s judgment is not only a victory for staff on Serco Docklands and RMT’s 80,000 members but it is also a massive victory for the seven million trade unionists in the UK.

“The Serco Docklands injunction on balloting process would have taken the anti-union laws in this country to within a whisker of effectively banning the right to strike if it had been allowed to stand and would have tightened the noose around the necks of nurses, firefighters, ambulance crew, home helps and others engaged in fighting back, to the point of strangulation. This victory helps clear the path for those workers to take action.

“This landmark victory for working people in this country could not have been secured without the sterling work of Richard Arthur and Doug Christie from Thompson’s solicitors and the advocacy of RMT’s standing counsel John Hendy QC. The result also means that the best part of £100,000 (AU$160,000) in RMT’s legal costs will be paid back to the union.

“We said on the steps of the High Court last year after the Network Rail case that it was round one to the employers. Well, this is round two to the trade unions and the millions who count on us to defend their jobs, pensions and workplace rights.”

Summary of judgment

The Court of Appeal has given a landmark judgment on industrial action. The judgment overturns the injunction granted against RMT in respect of its planned industrial action on Serco.

For the first time in the United Kingdom, the Court of Appeal recognises the right to strike in the context of the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law.

The only reason why the injunction was granted was because of a technicality. Serco couldn’t convince the High Court that the RMT’s detailed lists and figures for members was inadequate. But the High Court held that the union’s explanation as to how it had arrived at those figures were inadequate.

The Court of Appeal today ruled unanimously that the union’s explanation of how it had arrived at the figures was more than adequate. It also unanimously rejected Serco’s cross-appeal that the figures for members were not sufficiently accurate.

There has been a series of cases over the last few years where the Courts have interpreted the industrial action legislation in ever more restrictive ways against trade unions. This judgment should put a halt to that trend. The union must pass on the information that it has about members in its notices, but that is all. It should not be tripped up by inadvertent errors in complying with the extremely complex balloting requirements.

The industrial action legislation in the United Kingdom is still amongst the most restrictive in the western world. The RMT maintains that the United Kingdom has failed to comply with its obligations under international law, a matter which it is pursuing against the government in the European Court of Human Rights. The union says the landmark judgment goes some way to showing why the RMT has been right all along.  

Next article – India: Two hundred thousand workers march

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