The human rights we stand to lose from a Tory government

03 October 2013 By Sarah Glenister, IER staff David Cameron told the BBC's Andrew Marr this weekend that he would withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if he thought such an action was necessary to "keep our country safe".

Commentary icon3 Oct 2013|Comment

Sarah Glenister

National Development Officer, Institute of Employment Rights

03 October 2013

By Sarah Glenister, IER staff

David Cameron told the BBC’s Andrew Marr this weekend that he would withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if he thought such an action was necessary to “keep our country safe”.

The Prime Minister focused on the laws surrounding deportation, stating: “Are we able to chuck out of our country people who have no right to be here, who threaten our country? I say we should be able to do that. Whatever that takes, we must deliver that outcome.”

Asked whether that includes withdrawing from the ECHR, he said: “It may be that that is where we end up.”

But the ECHR is a complex Convention that covers far more than the rights of foreign nationals (for example, the right to be protected against torture), and the rights of prisoners – another right-wing bugbear. In fact, a large number of the Articles in the ECHR exist to protect the rights of workers.

Here is just a sample of what we stand to lose under a Conservative government if Cameron does find it ‘necessary’ to withdraw from the ECHR:

Article 4: Prohibition of slavery and forced labour

  • No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.
  • No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

This Human Right is of great interest at a time where government workfare is being imposed on jobless people across the UK. Without this right, how far could the state go?

Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life

  • Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

This right covers such aspects as the surveillance of employees by their employers, setting boundaries between workers’ home and work lives.

Article 10: Freedom of expression

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

This right is important to several employment laws, most notably whistleblowing law, as it provides a legal foundation for the freedom of speech of employees.

Article 11: Freedom of assembly and association

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

This right is a particular worry under any Conservative government, as the Tories have tried again and again to stamp out trade unionism. Under the ECHR, workers do not only have the right to protect their interests through joining a trade union, they are also given the right to go out on strike if negotiations fail.

Prohibition of discrimination

  • The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

This is an extremely important right in progressive Britain, protecting by law characteristics that may lead to harassment. This right provides an international safeguard against discrimination based on a person’s individual characteristics, including by employers.

The Institute of Employment Rights will be releasing an information booklet in the coming weeks describing the issues that could arise from the withdrawal from the ECHR and how Britain would look under a Conservative government that took such action.

Sarah Glenister

Sarah Glenister Sarah Glenister Sarah Glenister is the Institute of Employment Rights' IT Development and Communications Assistant.