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European Convention on Human Rights

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In this case, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) alleged that the ballot procedure for strike action and the prohibition of secondary strike action as defined in UK legislation placed excessive restrictions on the freedom of association enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found no violation of Article 11.

The ECtHR found the RMT’s complaint in relation to the ballot procedure inadmissible insofar as the procedure ultimately led to successful industrial action and thus could not constitute a restriction of Article 11 [para. 45]. The contested procedure required the communication of a greater level of specificity than the one provided by the RMT with regards to the type of worker that would take part in the ballot. The RMT supplied the clarification, the strike was held and resulted in improved wages.

The second complaint, related to secondary action, was declared admissible. Here, the RMT argued that the lack of a legal possibility to call secondary action had been an obstacle to its ability to protect workers transferred within the wider company group to another enterprise at which workers may be paid less and where trade unions had less influence.
The ECtHR concluded that the RMT’s wish to organise secondary action in support of those employees constituted a wish to exercise its right to freedom of association and that the statutory ban on secondary action constituted an interference with its rights under this provision. To be compatible with paragraph 2 of Article 11, such interference must be shown to be “prescribed by law”, to pursue a legitimate aim, and to be “necessary in a democratic society” to achieve those aims. [Para 78].

The ECtHR found that the statutory restriction was pursuing a legitimate aim in protecting the rights and freedoms of citizens in general [para. 82], and the fact that it had remained intact for more than twenty years proved that the ban was the result of a democratic consensus and thus necessary in a democratic society. [Para 99]. Accordingly, no violation of Article 11 ECHR was held to have occurred. [Para. 105].

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