JUNE 2014
  • The Right to Secondary Industrial Action under the ECHR and
    International Human Rights Law

    Paul Gragl
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The recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers v United Kingdom1 would not, prima facie, appear to warrant a case comment, since it could be easily regarded as a relatively straightforward case, pertaining to the right to freedom of association under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), particularly in the form of trade unions. Article 11 safeguards not only the freedom to protect the occupational interests of trade union members by industrial action, which must be permitted and made possible by the Contracting States, but also, as the Grand Chamber for the first time clarified in Demir v Turkey, the right to bargain collectively and to enter into collective agreements.

Nonetheless, at least in two aspects, Strasbourg’s decision in this case is significant and worthy of a detailed comment: first, this is the first time the Court had to determine whether secondary industrial action is in fact covered by Article 11(1) ECHR and secondly, it scrutinized other instruments of international law dealing with this question and also relied on elements of comparative law in deciding the case. The second aspect deserves greater attention, given the nature of this journal. This case comment will examine how the court utilized other sources of international and national law in order to answer the question whether secondary industrial action falls within the scope of Article 11(1) ECHR.