Posted on: Nov 20,2020
Workers on strike continue to have the legal right to picket their workplace during Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, following a legal challenge by Unite
After a judicial review was ratified by the High Court the government “conceded that the right to picket should be upheld”. The case began after Unite members on strike, picketing in a socially distanced manner at the Optare bus factory in Sherburn in Elmet, near Leeds, were moved on by police last week.
Picketers asserted that they were told they would be sanctioned with a penalty notice for breaking lockdown rules if they returned after being disbursed by local police.
Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “The right to picket is fundamental and is one of the few actions that workers are legally entitled to use following a lawful ballot for strike action. Without the right to picket, the very essence of the right to withdraw their labour is undermined”.
“Unite’s members at Optare were holding a legal picket and abiding by strict social distancing rules. They had been told their workplace was safe for them to continue working, yet the police claimed that a picket outside the workplace contravened the lockdown rules. The decision by the police to break up that picket was wrong and the government has now conceded it was wrong.”
Unite’s legal argument was predicated on the right to picket as a fundamental right protected by the Human Rights Act. Unite is now waiting on the High Court to formally uphold the right to picket by virtue of a court order. It claimed that the government had issued guidance to all police forces which makes it clear that workers can undertake socially distanced picketing, as it falls within the1 exception on the right to go to work during the lockdown.
North Yorkshire Police said that “as legal proceedings are active we are not in a position to comment”.
The Department for Health and Social Care also said they could not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.
Optare, a subsidiary of Ashok Leyland and a leading manufacturer of buses, had asked Unite to abrogate demands for a salary increase at a time when the industry was making many redundancies.
Graham Belgum, chief executive, said last month “As a company, we respect the decision that was made yesterday by union members to take industrial action – although we can’t deny that we are disappointed by the outcome”.
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