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On 22 March 2023 the European Committee of Social Rights (the Committee) published its Conclusions from 2022 in respect of 33 States, including the United Kingdom, in relation to labour rights as laid out in the European Social Charter.[1]

In the vast majority of areas examined, the UK was found not to be in conformity with its obligations in relation to labour rights.

This damning indictment of the rights of workers in the UK aligns with evidence in our own recent independent civil society report to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (UN CESCR) and evidence in the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s, human rights tracker which notes that there has been limited progress by the UK Government in relation to just and favourable conditions of work.

UK not meeting rights standards

Our report to UN CESCR evidenced:

  • Unemployment continues to disproportionately affect disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups as a consequence of both UK Government policy and inaction. This leaves the right to work inadequately protected.
  • Insufficient progress has been made on taking all appropriate measures to fully guarantee labour rights of workers in law and practice in respect of just and favourable conditions of work. Low pay and insufficient number of hours are highlighted as key drivers of in-work poverty.
  • Low wages are prevalent and do not ensure a decent standard of living resulting in in-work poverty.
  • Discrimination at work and the vulnerability of some workers to rights violations persists.
  • The UK Government’s claim that the treatment of trade unions is compliant with international conventions and that trade union rights are sufficiently protected to ensure that workers enjoy trade union rights without undue restrictions or interference is not correct.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s human rights tracker notes that there has been limited progress by the UK Government in relation to just and favourable conditions of work. In particular they state that while there have been legal or policy changes to improve human rights protections, there has been very limited evidence of sustained improvements in the enjoyment of human rights on this issue.

Conclusions of the Committee

In the following section we’ve summarised the conclusions of the European Committee of Social Rights, but you can read the full report regarding the UK here.

Key

🟢 UK in conformity

🔴 UK not in conformity

 

Article 2 – Right to just conditions of work

The Committee concludes that the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 2(2) of the 1961 Charter on the ground that the right of all workers to public holidays with pay is not guaranteed.

The report indicates that in the United Kingdom in April 2020, the holiday pay reference period was increased for atypical workers to 52 weeks in which they worked to ensure that holiday pay was more fairly reflective of a worker’s actual earnings, particularly for those workers whose working patters fluctuated seasonally.

The Committee concludes that the situation in the United Kingdom is in conformity with Article 2(3) of the 1961 Charter.

The Committee concluded that the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 2(4) of the 1961 Charter on the ground that workers exposed to residual occupational health risks are not entitled to appropriate compensatory measures.

The Committee concluded that the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 2(5) of the 1961 Charter, on the ground that there are insufficient safeguards to prevent workers from working for more than twelve consecutive days without a rest period.

 Article 4 – Right to a fair remuneration

The Committee examined fair renumeration, workers in atypical employment (including zero-hours contracts) and Covid-19. Concluded that the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 4(1) of the 1961 Charter on the ground that the minimum wage does not ensure a decent standard of living.

The Committee concludes that the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 4(2) of the 1961 Charter on the ground that workers do not have adequate legal guarantees to ensure increased remuneration for overtime.

The Committee concludes that the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 4(4) of the 1961 Charter on the ground that notice periods are manifestly unreasonable for workers with less than three years of service.

The Committee concludes that the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 4(5) of the 1961 Charter on the ground that the absence of adequate limits on deductions from wages equivalent to the National Minimum Wage may result in depriving workers who are paid the lowest wage and their dependents of their means of subsistence.

The Committee concludes that the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 5 of the 1961 Charter on the grounds that:

  • the right to organise is not guaranteed to members of the armed forces;
  • legislation which makes it unlawful for a trade union to indemnify an individual union member for a penalty imposed for an offence or contempt of court, and which severely restricts the grounds on which a trade union may lawfully discipline members, represents an unjustified incursion into the autonomy of trade unions.

Article 6 – Right to bargain collectively

As the previous conclusion found the situation in the United Kingdom to be in conformity with the Charter, there was no examination of the situation in 2022. Therefore, the Committee reiterates its previous conclusion, that the situation in the United Kingdom is in conformity with Article 6(1) of the 1961 Charter.

The Committee concludes that the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 6(2) of the 1961 Charter on the ground that workers and trade unions do not have the right to bring legal proceedings in the event that employers offer financial incentives to induce workers to exclude themselves from collective bargaining.

As the previous conclusion found the situation in the United Kingdom to be in conformity with the Charter, there was no examination of the situation in 2022. Therefore, the Committee reiterates its previous conclusion, that the situation in the United Kingdom is in conformity with Article 6(3) of the 1961 Charter.

The Committee concludes that the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 6(4) of the 1961 Charter on the grounds that:

  • lawful collective action is limited to disputes between workers and their employer;
  • the requirement to give notice to an employer of a ballot on industrial action, in addition to the strike notice that must be issued before taking action, is excessive;
  • the protection of workers against dismissal when taking industrial action is insufficient.

Conclusion

The conclusions of the Committee are yet another piece of evidence in a growing pile that illustrates the multifaceted ways in which people across the UK are not having their rights realised through work.

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to deepen across the UK, putting more and more families and individuals under strain, we  believe that now is the time to incorporate our economic, social and cultural rights (including our rights to work) into our domestic legislation so we can all take action to ensure our rights are realised. 

 

[1]The European Social Charter is a Council of Europe treaty that guarantees fundamental social and economic rights as a counterpart to the European Convention on Human Rights, which refers to civil and political rights. As this treaty relates to the UK’s membership of the Council of Europe, not the European Union, it is unaffected by the UK leaving the EU.   

Background image by Marko Jovanovac