Protecting the right to picket

Major legal challenge launched to defend right to picket during lockdown

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Unite has filed an urgent judicial review seeking to protect the right to picket, following the introduction of the new coronavirus lockdown regulations in England.

The case is brought against the chief constable of North Yorkshire and the secretary of state for health and social care. The judicial review will be held this Friday (November 13).

Following a lawful ballot, Unite members were picketing peacefully and lawfully outside the Optare bus factory in Leeds on November 5, immediately after the new lockdown regulations came into force.

The local Unite officer had carried out a full Covid-19 health and safety risk assessment and issued Covid-19 picketing guidelines. The members picketing were observing measures such as social distancing, use of face masks and hand sanitiser, while also maintaining a ‘track and trace’ log.

Despite these measures, the pickets were told by a police officer at 8.30am to stop picketing and that if he had to return that day they would be issued with penalty notices and/or fines because picketing wasn’t allowed under the new coronavirus lockdown regulations.

Unite argues that the lockdown regulations must be interpreted consistently with the internationally recognised fundamental right to picket, protected by the Human Rights Act. Unite is seeking an urgent declaration from the court this week to allow the lawful and peaceful picketing to resume.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said, “The right to take industrial action and to picket is a fundamental one that cannot and should not be removed by government – to do so has all the hallmarks of running a horse and cart through trade union rights.

“Preventing workers who are taking lawful industrial action from picketing is behaviour more akin to a totalitarian state,” he added.

“We have taken every possible safety measure to ensure the safety of those engaged in this lawful action and to be frank they are probably safer outside on the picket line than they would be inside the workplace.

“We have workers fighting for their jobs all over the country, not just at Optare but also at Rolls Royce in Barnoldswick, where our members are opposing the transfer of their jobs to Singapore,” Beckett continued.

“We understand and support the measures brought to ensure safety during this pandemic but cannot accept that this should curtail the right to picket during an industrial dispute.

“At a time when workers are suffering from the worst excesses of employers seeking to use the pandemic to justify their behaviour it is essential that unions retain every weapon in our industrial armoury.

“This includes the courts and we are taking our argument to those courts to ensure our members have the right to fight back.”

By Barckley Sumner

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