Northern Ireland: Anti-strike law should never be extended to Northern Ireland - Amnesty

‘The idea that these draconian restrictions to the right to strike should be extended to Northern Ireland is alarming’ – Patrick Corrigan

In response to the suggestion by Sir Robert Buckland MP, Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, that the Government’s Strikes (Minimum Services Level) Act should be extended to the region, Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK, said:

“The idea that these draconian restrictions to the right to strike should be extended to Northern Ireland is alarming. The rights to join a trade union and withdraw one’s labour through strike action are fundamental human rights.

“The legislation ignores key safeguards that protect workers’ rights under international law. It gives ministers sweeping powers to impose minimum service levels after whatever consultations they see fit, rather than requiring them to negotiate alongside unions and employers.

“This anti-trade union law has been just one of numerous examples of the Government’s drive to erode human rights in the UK. Thankfully, this is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland and the legislation does not apply and should never be introduced here by our politicians.

Biggest strike action planned

On Thursday 18 January, tens of thousands of workers from across the public sector, including teachers, civil servants and transport workers, are due to take industrial action in what has been called the biggest strike in Northern Ireland's history.

The UK government introduced legislation in England, Wales and Scotland in July 2023, known as the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023, which requires some employees to work during industrial action and face the sack if they refuse.

Undermining the fundamental right to strike

While international labour standards do provide for minimum service levels in “public services of fundamental importance”, they are subject to important safeguards. Notably these include an expectation that such levels are negotiated between unions, employers and public authorities. They are also subject to third-party (preferably judicial) arbitration where agreement cannot be reached.

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