What: Unite gives evidence to UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
When: Wednesday 15 June 2016
Where: Palais de Nations, Geneva, Switzerland
In an historic development for the UK trade union movement, the UK’s biggest union Unite will be taking the case for action to protect working people from government practices and abusive employers to the United Nations.
Actions by both the Holyrood and Westminster governments will be under the spotlight when on Wednesday (15 June), Unite Scottish deputy regional secretary, Mary Alexander, will give evidence to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva.
The hearing has arisen as a result of Unite’s long-running campaign to get justice for thousands of workers denied a right to earn their living by blacklisting anti-union employers.
In 2015, following a preliminary hearing when Unite gave evidence on human rights abuses of workers in the UK, the UN announced that it would seek further clarification on the treatment of workers from the UK government.
Unite will be joined by another union Unison. Both unions will argue that UN conventions on trade union membership and freedom of association have been breached by both the Scottish and UK governments, specifically articles 6, 7 and 8 of the convention in relation to the recently-passed Trade Union Act and the blacklisting of workers, pointing specifically to companies that have admitted blacklisting workers continuing to receive procurement contracts from the Scottish Government
According to Unite, the new Act has been designed to make it extremely difficult for workers to take lawful industrial action to defend themselves, while exorbitant employment tribunal fees have put justice beyond the reach of millions of working people.
Unite will also argue that, in awarding contracts to companies that have admitted blacklisting workers, the Scottish Government has breached its own strictures that its laws must be ‘compatible with human rights’.
Ahead of the evidence session, Mary Alexander, Unite Scottish deputy regional secretary said: “This is a landmark development in a landmark campaign. The practices of our governments in both Edinburgh and Westminster in relation to working people have caused alarm at United Nations, so much so that they have taken the decision that they must shine a spotlight onto the murkier happenings in our workplaces.
“Fundamental human rights are being breached on a daily basis. From extortionate fees for employment tribunals to the assault on trades unions, the most basic human rights are being violated by the UK government.
“Meanwhile, companies that have admitted blacklisting workers are being given contracts by the Scottish Government, in clear breach of its own guidance, sending an extremely worrying signal to working people about how valued they are by their government.
“Of course, we are honoured to be able to take our case on behalf of UK workers to the UN, but it gives us no pride that our governments’ actions are such that they cause international concern. We sincerely hope that this intervention by the UN is a wake-up call to our governments to get their priorities right and start defending the human rights of working people.”
The union has been fighting for an independent public inquiry into blacklisting to establish the facts behind how workers’ names appeared in a secret dossier run by the Consulting Association set up by, and used by construction companies across the UK. Workers on these lists found themselves subsequently blacklisted from receiving work on grounds of trade union membership or for raising health and safety concerns.
Earlier this year, Unite and other unions successfully pursued over 30 construction companies through the High Court, resulting in an order that the companies must admit their guilt and to disclose information relating to the blacklisting of workers.
Unite is demanding an independent public inquiry, similar to the Pitchford Inquiry on undercover policing, to establish the facts surrounding blacklisting. The union also wants clarity on the extent of the involvement of the police service in providing information on workers to the Consulting Association.
To speak to Mary Alexander ahead of the Geneva hearing, please contact the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065.