Judge extends anti-union laws

Submitted by Matthew on 26 January, 2011 - 10:51

A judge has banned a planned strike by RMT members on Docklands Light Railway, issuing an injunction that makes it even harder for trade unions to hold lawful strikes.

RMT balloted members employed by Serco Docklands over several issues, including attacks on pension rights, differences in working hours, and the sacking of two members. The union's ballot did not break existing anti-union law, so the judge announced an extension of the law and declared that the ballot notification did not meet its requirements and therefore the strike could not go ahead!

Legislation dating back to 2004 states that a union has to notify the employer of the number of members in each grade and location that it is balloting for industrial action, and to explain how it has put this information together. That is quite difficult and onerous to comply with, particularly in companies with many different workplaces and grades and where staff change grade or location frequently.

But although RMT has used the same format in providing this explanation since the law was introduced, without being legally challenged, this judge decided that it was not detailed enough. He banned the DLR strike because the union's explanation did not meet requirements that up until that moment had not existed! He also ruled that it was inaccurate for the union to claim that it had updated and audited its membership information, as this implies that it carried out two separate processes when it had not done so!

The purpose of the law requiring unions to provide this explanation is to give the employer the information it needs to undermine the strike, for example by campaigning among the members involved or organising to cover work duties that would be left uncovered by the strike. The judge seems to have rewritten the purpose as well as the detail of the law, as he states that the purpose of the explanation is to allow the employer and the court to monitor the union's information-gathering so that they can ensure the information is accurate. In practice, this means that the unions have to provide a detailed explanation so that the employer can scrutinise the notification and look for slight inaccuracies that allow it to ask the court to ban the strike!

No-one can seriously believe that balloting legislation — or the court judgments that extend and deepen it - are about ensuring that strikes are organised democratically and fairly. The Serco Docklands case shows clearly that the laws and judgments are about arming employers to have entirely democratic industrial action banned so they can force through attacks on the workforce without effective resistance. They show the government and the judiciary acting in the service of the employers against the trade union movement.

Our unions need to expose and oppose these laws and rulings. They also need to organise a major protest movement to demand their repeal and to assert the democratic right to strike. RMT is appealing against this injunction, and discussing how to campaign effectively against anti-union judgments.

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