The right and the freedom of workers to withdraw their labour as a legitimate act of protest in the face of inhospitable industrial relations, can be recognised as a fundamental democratic right of employees, with this right regulated and governed by many international legal instruments of the UN, the ILO and the EU. It distinguishes democracies from other less participative or authoritarian governments, and is a symbol of the freedom of peaceful assembly and association to protect workers’ interests. Indeed, in some European countries, the right to undertake industrial action is embedded and protected in written constitutions.
This ‘right’ to take industrial action, however, faces considerable restraint in the UK as withdrawal of labour in this manner is not a protected right. For example, both UK common law and statute both regulate and control strikes, so that any striker in the UK is considered to have ‘broken’ their contract of employment by choosing to take such action.
RESCUE believes this lack of protection leaves many working in archaeology and the wider heritage sector vulnerable, in a profession that already puts pressures on its members financially, physically and mentally. To expose an already pressured workforce who are ‘protesting in large numbers at stagnating pay, insecure contracts, and an ever-growing workload driven by often unachievable targets’ to unnecessary repercussions both discourages and disempowers a workforce full of tremendous vibrancy, motivation and love for the work they do.
While employers may be backed by current legislation to ‘punish’ those who wish to go on strike to raise their standards of employment in harsh times, the choice for employers to act in this way and not respect the fundamental human right in the pursuit of legitimate industrial protest will only harm the profession in the long term. Rescue’s full policy on Employment, Pay and Training can be found here.