Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2018, 13:56 GMT

The Global State of Workers' Rights - United Kingdom

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 31 August 2010
Cite as Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - United Kingdom, 31 August 2010, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Workers' right to organize in unions is protected. The Trade Union and Labor Relations Consolidation Act sets out most trade union rights, and unions can be established without government interference. While unions are the largest financial contributors to the Labour Party, they are free from control by the government or the party. Labour's connection with the union movement has weakened since the party shifted to the political center during the 1990s. In 2007 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that British law breached the right of a union to choose its members in accordance with its values. A British court had ruled against a local union that expelled a member who was an activist for the far-right British National Party. In response to the ECHR ruling, the law was changed in 2008 to allow a trade union to exclude a person on the basis of his or her membership, or former membership, in a political party.

Workers do not face pressure from the government or employers to join or not join certain trade unions. There are some restrictions on strikes that are criticized by unions, including measures that outlaw sympathy strikes and limit strikes to employment-related matters. In most cases employees can be fired for participating in a lawful strike when there has been a lockout for more than 12 weeks. A 2007 survey found that 92 percent of union representatives believed their position could seriously damage their career prospects. Laws in effect since 2005 prohibit union-busting tactics by employers. Collective bargaining takes place, generally at the level of the enterprise. Although collective-bargaining agreements are honored in practice, in 2006 the International Labour Organization expressed concern that Britain does not grant unions the right to gain access to workplaces.

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