Two different bodies in the last week have reflected on issues concerning the fundamental imbalance in the employment relationship. This provides an opportunity to reflect on what, if any, role human rights principles have in redressing that imbalance:
(1) The Article 11 Case of RMT -v- UK (Application No 31045/10): The European Court Human Rights (Fourth Section sitting as a Chamber) found that Article 11 (the right to freedom of association) was not infringed by the restrictions imposed on trade unions calling on their members to take strike action by the UK Government as part of the statutory scheme which provides for lawful strikes; that is strikes that attract statutory immunity from common law liability. According to the ECHR, these restrictions on lawful striking were within the wide margin of appreciation enjoyed by the UK Government. The RMT’s case was that the restrictions impermissibly restricted their ability to protect and promote the interests of their members working in industries and for employers with complex corporate structures.
(2) Zero Hour Contracts Consultation: The Government’s consultation on zero hours contract which appears to have been somewhat upstaged by the Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee publishing an interim report on zero-hours contracts which while recommending some changes, ultimately concludes that ‘in the majority of cases’ zero-hours contracts should not be used at all. The interim report contends that the lack of job security for workers engaged on zero hours contracts places a practical impediment to the majority of the workers surveyed from enforcing other basic rights including the minimum wage, part-time worker protections, and protection for those with caring responsibilities: see summary here. Continue reading
Benkharbouche v Embassy of the Republic of Sudan (Jurisdictional Points: State Immunity)  UKEAT 0401_12_0410 4 October 2013 – read judgment
These appeals, heard at the same time, raise the question whether someone employed in the UK by a foreign diplomatic mission as a member of its domestic staff may bring a claim to assert employment rights against the country whose mission it is, despite being met by an assertion of State Immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978. The EAT regarded itself bound by the supremacy of EU law to disapply the SIA, despite the fact that it had no jurisdiction to do so under the 1998 Human Rights Act.
This is the first time that the full force of the rights contained in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms has made itself felt in a domestic dispute between private parties (although the embassies themselves are state institutions, as an employment dispute the matter is one of private law only). If upheld on appeal, this ruling will have consequences that extend far beyond the somewhat esoteric area of the immunity of diplomatic missions, and will make the effect of the Human Rights Act look puny by comparison (as pointed out by Joshua Rozenberg in his post on this case). Continue reading
Dumfries and Galloway -v- North  UKSC 45 – Read judgment
Yesterday’s much heralded equal pay ‘victory’ in the Supreme Court (see BBC Report) undoubtedly will be good news for the specific female claimants in the case who seek to vindicate their European Union rights to equal pay.
The female claimants do so by comparing their pay with male colleagues working in entirely distinct parts of the same local authority (being Dumfries and Galloway Council) but arguably on common terms and conditions of employment (often referred to as the ‘same employment’ test).
However, in legal terms, arguably the unanimous Judgment delivered by Lady Hale in the Supreme Court is not quite so revolutionary. Many practitioners, outside Scotland at least, had anticipated its outcome.
Macfarlane and others v United Kingdom (ECHR 329 (2012) – read press release
Tomorrow the Strasbourg Court will hear complaints in four applications that UK law has failed adequately to protect the applicants’ right to manifest their religion, contrary to Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination). See our posts on these cases here and here, and in the related Preddy case here.
All four applicants are practising Christians who complain that UK law did not sufficiently protect their rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complain that their employers placed restrictions on their visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele, a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Mr McFarlane, a Relate counsellor, complain about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality. Their challenges to their consequent dismissal were rejected by the UK courts on the basis that their employers were entitled to refuse to accommodate views which contradicted their fundamental declared principles – and, all the more so, where these principles were required by law, notably under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.
The judgment is awaited with considerable anticipation: the National Secular Society and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have both filed intervening submissions under Rule 44 §3 of the Rules of the Court.