United Kingdom


Systematic violations of rights

Worse than last year


Workers' rights violations

Repressive laws

In response to the railway and NHS disputes in the United Kingdom, the government brought new primary legislation before parliament on 10 January 2023 which would enforce the unilateral imposition of Minimum Service Levels on railway workers, ambulance workers, and fire service workers, with provisions for the laws to extend to any services within the transport, healthcare, border force, education, nuclear decommissioning and storage, and fire and rescue sectors.

Under the proposed new laws, workers required to cross picket lines to run minimum services lose their legal protection from unfair dismissal if they continue to take strike action, and trade unions can face paying damages for not ensuring that work notices are followed.

There was no consultation with trade unions before the introduction of this legislation, and there is little opportunity to scrutinise or influence the legislation, as it is being rushed through Parliament on a curtailed timetable.

The draft legislation is another attack on the fundamental right to strike for workers in the UK, which already lacks constitutional safeguards and takes place in a draconian legislative environment for trade unions. Britain’s anti-union laws require a two-week notice period before the initiation of a strike. They also require an excessive majority of union members to vote for the strike action, both in terms of voter turnout and in terms of ‘yes’ votes. Additionally, in July 2022, the law was changed to allow the recruitment of agency labour to break strikes, a practice which was previously illegal.

Right to trade union activities

In April 2022, the Certification Officer, which regulates trade union affairs in the United Kingdom, was handed extensive new powers. These included the ability to initiate investigations without a trade unionist making a complaint, the right to demand documents, to appoint outside investigators, and to impose financial penalties on unions for breaches of statute. This gives the state considerably more influence over internal trade union affairs.

Right to collective bargaining

In 2022, the new owners of the Royal Mail in the United Kingdom, which was privatised in 2015, have refused to meaningfully negotiate on pay or conditions in a dispute that has so far lasted over six months, with no end in sight. Instead, Royal Mail engaged in an internal reorganisation of the company and imposed a unilateral 2 per cent pay rise on postal workers, alongside cuts to conditions.

Right to collective bargaining

Trade unions representing members in the National Health Services (NHS), education, and civil service in the United Kingdom were in dispute with the government over 2022-2023 pay awards. The government refused to bargain on pay, claiming that it must follow the recommendations of the pay review body (PRB), while in fact, the government has full freedom to accept, reject or implement PRB recommendations. Furthermore, PRBs has its remit set by the Treasury in advance of making its recommendations. This undermines its independence and autonomy, a claim further damaged by the fact that PRB members are appointed by government. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) deplored that the government would use such a pretext to avoid collective bargaining.

Workers’ rights in law

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