Fundamental rights / Protest rights


Posted on 27 Jan 2023

  • More than 800 nurses, doctors and paramedics send letter to Suella Braverman and Grant Shapps to drop Bills that reduce workers’ rights
  • Healthcare workers warn that the Public Order Bill and the Strikes Bill will ultimately ‘endanger public health’
  • Medact argues that these Bills “fundamentally threaten our right to fight for what’s right and build a fairer, healthier society”

A group of more than 800 healthcare workers, including nurses, doctors, and paramedics, have written to Suella Braverman and Grant Shapps to express their concerns that the Government’s Public Order Bill and Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill will ‘endanger public health’.

In a joint letter, organised by Medact and human rights organisation Liberty, healthcare workers warned that the threats to collective organising will make it harder for them to take action to protect themselves, their patients, and the future of the NHS. Healthcare workers and their unions have urged the Government to reconsider these pieces of legislation.

Among the calls sent to the Home Secretary and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, Medact said that the Government’s plans to introduce anti-protest and anti-workers’ rights legislation “threaten our right to fight for what’s right and build a fairer, healthier society”. Their comments have been echoed across civil society – from workers in education and transport, to politicians from Labour, the Green Party, the Liberal Democratics and the Scottish National Party, and civil liberties groups.

Echoing concerns voiced by cross-party parliamentarians, five UN Special Rapporteurs, and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Liberty has described the Public Order Bill as ‘taking a sledgehammer to protest rights’, making it much harder for people – especially those from marginalised and vulnerable groups – to make their voices heard. The Bill resurrects dangerous anti-protest proposals already rejected by the people and Parliament. Liberty has said that the expansion of stop and search, the introduction of protest banning orders, and a raft of new criminal offences will strike at the very heart of protest, and could criminalise anyone who takes to the streets for causes they believe in.

Liberty warned that the Government’s plans to introduce yet more severe restrictions in the Strikes Bill will attack the very basis of what make strikes effective, and lead to workers being dismissed for taking part in industrial action, and is yet another attempt from this Government to weaken the basic rights all workers should have.

Martha Spurrier, Director at Liberty, said: “We should all be able to stand up for what we believe in and make our voices heard. But the Public Order Bill and the Strikes Bill completely undermine the purpose of protest and striking, and will make it much harder for all of us to exercise our basic rights.

“The threats of these Bills must not be underestimated. Many of the privileges we enjoy today have come through protests and strikes, which have improved the quality of living for everybody. Yet, time and time again, this Government has demonstrated its determination to slash our rights. We must fight back against this power grab and defend our right to organise, protest and strike.”

Sarah Lasoye, Peace & Security Campaign Lead, Medact said: “Health workers have a long history of taking action on the conditions that cause ill health, whether that’s protesting against conflict or climate inaction, or standing up for their own rights in the workplace.

“These bills fundamentally threaten our right to fight for what’s right and build a fairer, healthier society, but this letter shows that health workers will resist every step of the way.”

Anthony Johnson, Registered Nurse and Lead Organiser from Nurses United said: “It is pretty simple – dangerous laws and policies are dangerous to your health. When we struggle to find food that we can afford or our landlord evicts us, that’s this Government’s laws and policies at work.

“Attacking our freedom to protest is even more stupid and dangerous. Protest is why we still even have an NHS and why any of us can have a say about our society. Anyone attempting to limit our freedom is doing so because they want to limit our freedom to live our lives. None of us should be happy about that.”

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