Supreme Court judgment stops bad bosses from punishing striking workers

Judges have told employers they’ll no longer be able to discipline their staff for taking part in legal strike action in a UK Supreme Court ruling today (Wednesday), says UNISON.

The union, which took the case on behalf of care worker Fiona Mercer, says the government must now act quickly to change the law and ensure no other employees are treated unfairly.

Today’s judgment follows a two-day hearing in December. UNISON took the case to the Supreme Court to overturn an earlier Court of Appeal decision. The union had argued this had left the UK in breach of international law and striking employees without proper protection.

The Supreme Court judges were scathing of the government’s failure to provide the minimum protection UK workers should have been granted, says UNISON.

UK law prevents employers from sacking employees who take legal strike action, but until today, it offered no protection to anyone subsequently picked upon for walking out in a dispute.

Fiona had originally taken a case against her then employer, Alternative Futures Group (AFG), a charity based in the north west of England, to an employment tribunal in 2020.

She had been involved in a dispute over AFG’s plans to cut payments to care staff who did sleep-in shifts. Fiona’s employer wasn’t happy, singled her out, suspended her and barred her from going into work or contacting colleagues during the action.

Fiona’s case wound up at an employment appeal tribunal (EAT) in 2021, which found in her favour. It said UK law must protect her from being victimised for going on strike.

That should have been it, says UNISON, as the charity had then decided it wasn’t prepared to proceed any further.

But the then business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng intervened and took the case to the Court of Appeal, which subsequently decided to reverse the EAT decision in March 2022.

Back to where it started, UNISON sought permission on behalf of Fiona to take the case to the highest court in the land, and this led to the judgment handed down today.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “This is the most important industrial action case for decades. It’s a victory for every employee who might one day want to challenge something bad or unfair their employer has done.

“Rogue bosses won’t like it one bit. They’ll no longer be able to punish or ill-treat anyone who dares to take strike action to try to solve any problems at work.

“No one strikes on a whim. There are many legal hoops to be jumped through first. But when a worker decides to walk out, they should be able to do so, safe in the knowledge they won’t be victimised by a spiteful boss.

“The government must now close this loophole promptly. It won’t cost any money and isn’t difficult to do. Today is a day to celebrate.”

Fiona Mercer said: “I’m delighted at today’s outcome. Although it won’t change the way I was treated, it means irresponsible employers will now think twice before behaving badly towards their unhappy staff. If they single strikers out for ill-treatment, they’ll now be breaking the law.”

Notes to editors:
– The judgment says: “If employees can only take strike action by exposing themselves to detrimental treatment, the right dissolves.  Nor is it clear what legitimate aim a complete absence of such protection serves.  In the context of the scheme of protection that is available, it is hard to see what pressing social need is served by a general rule that has the effect of excluding protection from sanctions short of dismissal for taking lawful strike action”. The full text can be found here.
– Fiona had originally taken AFG to an employment tribunal in April 2020. There, the union argued that Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998 – protects workers who take industrial action against their employer. UNISON said this meant employees should not be disciplined or treated unfairly because they had taken part in industrial action. The tribunal disagreed, although it found the Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 was likely to be incompatible with international human rights law. UNISON supported Fiona’s appeal, and an employment appeal tribunal (EAT) found in her favour. The EAT President said that UK law was not compliant with Article 11 of the ECHR and added wording to section 146 of the Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act as a protection for striking workers. However, Kwasi Kwarteng took the case to the Court of Appeal, which overturned the EAT decision. The government’s intervention meant a loophole in protection for striking workers continued.  The Supreme Court has now found that section 146 of the Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act is incompatible with Article 11. This is because it fails to provide any protection against sanctions short of dismissal, which are intended to deter or penalise workers from taking part in lawful strike action organised by their union.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk

The article Supreme Court judgment stops bad bosses from punishing striking workers first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Pay is key to persuading staff to stay in the NHS

Commenting on new analysis analysis by researchers at the University of Bath published today (Thursday) showing the extent to which NHS are looking for work outside the health service, UNISON head of health Helga Pile said:

“When some NHS workers are earning just a penny more than the minimum wage, it’s little wonder many don’t feel like staying.

“Supermarkets are paying higher rates and can offer staff discounts and much less stressful jobs.

“But a prompt and decent pay rise could persuade demoralised staff to stay so vacancies don’t worsen.

“Proper investment in the NHS would also help relieve some of the pressure and ensure patients get quality care.”

Notes to editors:
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen M: 0778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk

The article Pay is key to persuading staff to stay in the NHS first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Pay is key to persuading staff to stay in the NHS

Commenting on new analysis analysis by researchers at the University of Bath published today (Thursday) showing the extent to which NHS are looking for work outside the health service, UNISON head of health Helga Pile said:

“When some NHS workers are earning just a penny more than the minimum wage, it’s little wonder many don’t feel like staying.

“Supermarkets are paying higher rates and can offer staff discounts and much less stressful jobs.

“But a prompt and decent pay rise could persuade demoralised staff to stay so vacancies don’t worsen.

“Proper investment in the NHS would also help relieve some of the pressure and ensure patients get quality care.”

Notes to editors:
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen M: 0778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk

The article Pay is key to persuading staff to stay in the NHS first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Why insourcing isn’t always a win

On the final day of UNISON’s health conference, delegates heard a series of debates on defending the NHS against privatisation.

Tam Hiddleston for the service group executive warned that, while “we invariably think of insourcing as a positive,” some insourcing “is about private operators being brought into the NHS.”

UNISON needs to be very careful to monitor “any wider implications for Agenda for Change pay and conditions,” he continued.

Chris from London noted: “What’s the point of insourcing people and you just change their uniforms?”

Moving a motion on mega trusts for the Eastern region, Glen Carrington (pictured above) highlighted the rising problems facing staff in such trusts in his region.

NHS England is pursuing trust mergers in an attempt to save money, “but after 14 long years of Tory cuts, has anyone ever looked to see what the impact is on staff?

“The chances of starting a shift in Cromer and ending up in London happens all too often,” said Mr Carrington. “Don’t let anyone tell you big is always better.”

In another motion, conference heard of staff left devastated at learning that their jobs were being outsourced.

Yet even as outsourced services have been shown to cause major problems, it is an approach that continues, and causes even more problems – not least in the increase of a “two or three or four-tier workforces” as contracts are passed from one company to another.

That situation is a “national scandal that the Tory government continues to be complicit in,” said one speaker.

Steady recruitment of healthcare students

Also on Wednesday morning, conference heard of the “steady recruitment of healthcare students” and agreed that “continuing to recruit healthcare students to UNISON is an essential part of a strategy for a strong UNISON presence in the NHS”, and welcomed the success of the union’s Future Healthcare Leaders programme.

The motion, from the national young members’ forum, noted that a recent survey of heathcare students had revealed increasing struggles with the cost of living crisis and the levels of financial support they received, with 35% agreeing that they might not be able to complete their studies because of the situation.

Among a raft of calls, conference urged the executive to:

  • engage with regional health committees, the strategic organising unit, the national young members’ forum to build and develop strategies for recruitment and organisation of healthcare students
  • campaign for better financial arrangements for healthcare students
  • work with the national women’s committee to explore the additional financial challenges facing healthcare students with childcare responsibilities.

The article Why insourcing isn’t always a win first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Why insourcing isn’t always a win

On the final day of UNISON’s health conference, delegates heard a series of debates on defending the NHS against privatisation.

Tam Hiddleston for the service group executive warned that, while “we invariably think of insourcing as a positive,” some insourcing “is about private operators being brought into the NHS.”

UNISON needs to be very careful to monitor “any wider implications for Agenda for Change pay and conditions,” he continued.

Chris from London noted: “What’s the point of insourcing people and you just change their uniforms?”

Moving a motion on mega trusts for the Eastern region, Glen Carrington (pictured above) highlighted the rising problems facing staff in such trusts in his region.

NHS England is pursuing trust mergers in an attempt to save money, “but after 14 long years of Tory cuts, has anyone ever looked to see what the impact is on staff?

“The chances of starting a shift in Cromer and ending up in London happens all too often,” said Mr Carrington. “Don’t let anyone tell you big is always better.”

In another motion, conference heard of staff left devastated at learning that their jobs were being outsourced.

Yet even as outsourced services have been shown to cause major problems, it is an approach that continues, and causes even more problems – not least in the increase of a “two or three or four-tier workforces” as contracts are passed from one company to another.

That situation is a “national scandal that the Tory government continues to be complicit in,” said one speaker.

Steady recruitment of healthcare students

Also on Wednesday morning, conference heard of the “steady recruitment of healthcare students” and agreed that “continuing to recruit healthcare students to UNISON is an essential part of a strategy for a strong UNISON presence in the NHS”, and welcomed the success of the union’s Future Healthcare Leaders programme.

The motion, from the national young members’ forum, noted that a recent survey of heathcare students had revealed increasing struggles with the cost of living crisis and the levels of financial support they received, with 35% agreeing that they might not be able to complete their studies because of the situation.

Among a raft of calls, conference urged the executive to:

  • engage with regional health committees, the strategic organising unit, the national young members’ forum to build and develop strategies for recruitment and organisation of healthcare students
  • campaign for better financial arrangements for healthcare students
  • work with the national women’s committee to explore the additional financial challenges facing healthcare students with childcare responsibilities.

The article Why insourcing isn’t always a win first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Delegates support calls on wellbeing and health and safety

Delegates to UNISON’s health conference debated a series of motions under the collective heading of health, safety and wellbeing, on Monday and Tuesday afternoons.

“Let’s commit to fostering a workplace where every woman feels valued,” said Susan Parkinson (pictured above).

Moving a motion on women’s mental health at work for the national women’s committee, she explained that women experience higher levels of mental health problems than men.

Karen Buckley from Greater Manchester stated that 76% of the NHS staff are women. Alongside the fact that the majority of carers – paid and unpaid – are also women, and that low pay, the cost of living crisis and discrimination particularly affect women, it is little surprise that, as inequality has worsened, so mental health issues for women have increased.

“Most of all,” continued Ms Buckley, “we need social justice.”

Angie from the Homerton Hospital branch raised the issue of how being a Black women can intensify mental health problems, while a delegate from Northern Ireland, called out, to applause: “Stuff the stigma [around mental health]! Get the support from the people around you!”

Several delegates spoke movingly of their own experiences, as conference called on the service group executive to “work with the national women’s committee to campaign for mentally healthy workplaces where women can thrive”, and to “promote UNISON’s guide to bargaining on mental health to woman members working in the health sector, branch and regional women’s officers and self-organised groups”.

Brenda, moving a motion for the North West, pointed out that helping members deal with mental health issues “isn’t covered in the organising stewards’ course”. Delegates agreed that the executive should “encourage regions to provide training and guidance on signposting to help stewards support members who may be facing challenges with poor mental health.”

Delegates also backed motions calling for:

  • improved mental health access within the NHS
  • improved gender identity services and trans healthcare, as underfunding has turned the issue into a health and safety issue for NHS members
  • Long COVID to be recognised as a disability
  • the service group to encourage NHS organisations and outsourced providers of NHS services to sign up to the Sexual Safety Charter and support branches to work for full implementation of the charter.

A busy afternoon

Emma Dale addressing UNISON's health service group conference

On a busy Tuesday afternoon, delegates also discussed the issue of safe staffing within the health service – noting that this also has health and safety, and wellbeing considerations.

Moving the motion, Martin Mackay from Scotland said that, while the Health and Social Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act 2019, which has just come in to force, is welcome, it still does not include “all staff in our One Team”.

Emma Dale (pictured above) from South Wales gave an example of how not all NHS staff are covered. “I worked in forensic mental health,” she explained, so wasn’t covered. After an incident with a violent patient, she had to move from a job she loved into an admin post.

The article Delegates support calls on wellbeing and health and safety first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Delegates support calls on wellbeing and health and safety

Delegates to UNISON’s health conference debated a series of motions under the collective heading of health, safety and wellbeing, on Monday and Tuesday afternoons.

“Let’s commit to fostering a workplace where every woman feels valued,” said Susan Parkinson (pictured above).

Moving a motion on women’s mental health at work for the national women’s committee, she explained that women experience higher levels of mental health problems than men.

Karen Buckley from Greater Manchester stated that 76% of the NHS staff are women. Alongside the fact that the majority of carers – paid and unpaid – are also women, and that low pay, the cost of living crisis and discrimination particularly affect women, it is little surprise that, as inequality has worsened, so mental health issues for women have increased.

“Most of all,” continued Ms Buckley, “we need social justice.”

Angie from the Homerton Hospital branch raised the issue of how being a Black women can intensify mental health problems, while a delegate from Northern Ireland, called out, to applause: “Stuff the stigma [around mental health]! Get the support from the people around you!”

Several delegates spoke movingly of their own experiences, as conference called on the service group executive to “work with the national women’s committee to campaign for mentally healthy workplaces where women can thrive”, and to “promote UNISON’s guide to bargaining on mental health to woman members working in the health sector, branch and regional women’s officers and self-organised groups”.

Brenda, moving a motion for the North West, pointed out that helping members deal with mental health issues “isn’t covered in the organising stewards’ course”. Delegates agreed that the executive should “encourage regions to provide training and guidance on signposting to help stewards support members who may be facing challenges with poor mental health.”

Delegates also backed motions calling for:

  • improved mental health access within the NHS
  • improved gender identity services and trans healthcare, as underfunding has turned the issue into a health and safety issue for NHS members
  • Long COVID to be recognised as a disability
  • the service group to encourage NHS organisations and outsourced providers of NHS services to sign up to the Sexual Safety Charter and support branches to work for full implementation of the charter.

A busy afternoon

Emma Dale addressing UNISON's health service group conference

On a busy Tuesday afternoon, delegates also discussed the issue of safe staffing within the health service – noting that this also has health and safety, and wellbeing considerations.

Moving the motion, Martin Mackay from Scotland said that, while the Health and Social Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act 2019, which has just come in to force, is welcome, it still does not include “all staff in our One Team”.

Emma Dale (pictured above) from South Wales gave an example of how not all NHS staff are covered. “I worked in forensic mental health,” she explained, so wasn’t covered. After an incident with a violent patient, she had to move from a job she loved into an admin post.

The article Delegates support calls on wellbeing and health and safety first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Let more NHS staff work flexibly to help solve staffing crisis

NHS managers should do more to allow staff to work in flexible ways, including having more control over shift patterns or doing compressed hours*, says UNISON today (Wednesday).

Data from a new UNISON survey** shows a significant proportion of healthcare workers are not being given the alternative work patterns they’ve asked for.

The survey found two-thirds (65%) of women employed in healthcare across the UK who’ve asked for different work arrangements had their requests agreed in full.

But more than one in five (22%) were unable to obtain flexible working. A further one in eight (13%) had their requests initially refused, but eventually found acceptable compromises.

Health workers who took part in the survey included a woman who was refused changes to her work pattern despite the fact that her young daughter was diabetic and needed regular insulin injections.

Another NHS employee who looked after her 99-year-old grandmother requested a change in a shift start time to 9pm, to enable her to put her relative to bed. But her managers insisted she start at 7pm.

A more flexible approach could prove enough to persuade experienced, but jaded, staff to stay in the service and ensure the NHS can become a more attractive career option for would-be recruits, says UNISON.

Flexible working reforms were introduced in the NHS in 2021 in response to negotiations between health unions and the government. And from this month, staff across all sectors of the economy can ask for flexible arrangements from the first day of their employment.

UNISON’s survey of more than 12,000 women working in the healthcare sector found half (50%) of the women had not asked for flexible working, a third of whom were unaware it was even an option***. The union says staff and employers need greater awareness of the opportunities.

UNISON head of health Helga Pile said: “All NHS staff – whether they’re nurses, paramedics, operating theatre staff, porters, cleaners or control room workers – have a right to request flexible working. But some managers still have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

“NHS staff are leaving the service because they have no proper work-life balance. More freedom over working arrangements would help attract new staff and persuade more experienced employees to stay. That would help reduce vacancy rates, cut waiting times and improve the quality of care.

“Everyone benefits from greater flexibility. Not just the individual changing the way they work, but employers and patients too. A flexible approach can help tackle burnout, improve staff wellbeing and make for a more productive, contented workforce too.”

Notes to editors:
-*Compressed hours are when someone works their total contracted hours over fewer working days.
-**UNISON carried out the survey online from 2 to 7 February 2024. The findings are based on 12,085 responses from women working across the NHS in the UK. 
-***Of those who said they had not requested flexible working, 30% said they did not need it, 30% said they did not know it was an option and 30% did not think any request would be approved.
-Click here for more details about Let’s Talk about Flex, a campaign involving NHS unions. This highlights how flexible working could play its part in helping ease the NHS staffing crisis. It says a better work-life balance for paramedics, nurses, healthcare assistants, cleaners and other NHS staff might help fill some of the thousands of vacancies. The initiative is aimed at raising awareness among staff – and employers – to use the right to request more choice over where, when and how they work.
-UNISON’s annual health conference continues until today (Wednesday) at the Brighton Centre, Kings Road, Brighton BN1 2GR. Health workers from across the UK have been debating a variety of motions including NHS pay, mileage rates, bank staff, shorter working weeks, support for healthcare students, tackling racism, mental health, sexual safety, healthcare assistant rebanding, artificial intelligence and safe staffing. 
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk

The article Let more NHS staff work flexibly to help solve staffing crisis first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Let more NHS staff work flexibly to help solve staffing crisis

NHS managers should do more to allow staff to work in flexible ways, including having more control over shift patterns or doing compressed hours*, says UNISON today (Wednesday).

Data from a new UNISON survey** shows a significant proportion of healthcare workers are not being given the alternative work patterns they’ve asked for.

The survey found two-thirds (65%) of women employed in healthcare across the UK who’ve asked for different work arrangements had their requests agreed in full.

But more than one in five (22%) were unable to obtain flexible working. A further one in eight (13%) had their requests initially refused, but eventually found acceptable compromises.

Health workers who took part in the survey included a woman who was refused changes to her work pattern despite the fact that her young daughter was diabetic and needed regular insulin injections.

Another NHS employee who looked after her 99-year-old grandmother requested a change in a shift start time to 9pm, to enable her to put her relative to bed. But her managers insisted she start at 7pm.

A more flexible approach could prove enough to persuade experienced, but jaded, staff to stay in the service and ensure the NHS can become a more attractive career option for would-be recruits, says UNISON.

Flexible working reforms were introduced in the NHS in 2021 in response to negotiations between health unions and the government. And from this month, staff across all sectors of the economy can ask for flexible arrangements from the first day of their employment.

UNISON’s survey of more than 12,000 women working in the healthcare sector found half (50%) of the women had not asked for flexible working, a third of whom were unaware it was even an option***. The union says staff and employers need greater awareness of the opportunities.

UNISON head of health Helga Pile said: “All NHS staff – whether they’re nurses, paramedics, operating theatre staff, porters, cleaners or control room workers – have a right to request flexible working. But some managers still have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

“NHS staff are leaving the service because they have no proper work-life balance. More freedom over working arrangements would help attract new staff and persuade more experienced employees to stay. That would help reduce vacancy rates, cut waiting times and improve the quality of care.

“Everyone benefits from greater flexibility. Not just the individual changing the way they work, but employers and patients too. A flexible approach can help tackle burnout, improve staff wellbeing and make for a more productive, contented workforce too.”

Notes to editors:
-*Compressed hours are when someone works their total contracted hours over fewer working days.
-**UNISON carried out the survey online from 2 to 7 February 2024. The findings are based on 12,085 responses from women working across the NHS in the UK. 
-***Of those who said they had not requested flexible working, 30% said they did not need it, 30% said they did not know it was an option and 30% did not think any request would be approved.
-Click here for more details about Let’s Talk about Flex, a campaign involving NHS unions. This highlights how flexible working could play its part in helping ease the NHS staffing crisis. It says a better work-life balance for paramedics, nurses, healthcare assistants, cleaners and other NHS staff might help fill some of the thousands of vacancies. The initiative is aimed at raising awareness among staff – and employers – to use the right to request more choice over where, when and how they work.
-UNISON’s annual health conference continues until today (Wednesday) at the Brighton Centre, Kings Road, Brighton BN1 2GR. Health workers from across the UK have been debating a variety of motions including NHS pay, mileage rates, bank staff, shorter working weeks, support for healthcare students, tackling racism, mental health, sexual safety, healthcare assistant rebanding, artificial intelligence and safe staffing. 
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk

The article Let more NHS staff work flexibly to help solve staffing crisis first appeared on the UNISON National site.