Right to picket during lockdown secured following Unite legal challenge

Striking Hovis workers welcome commitment by Department of Health to exempt picket lines from regulation

Jackie Pollock, Unite Regional Secretary

Three day amendment to Covid regulation reflects benefit of employment law being devolved in Northern Ireland

Jackie Pollock, Regional Secretary for Unite welcomed confirmation from the Department of Health that it had inserted an amendment into Covid-19 Health Protection regulations to exclude lawful picket lines. The amendment to the Regulations was inserted only three days after striking Hovis workers on a picket line were told by PSNI that their socially-distanced picket contravened lockdown rules.

Mr Pollock said, “This communication from the Department of Health will be welcomed by the striking Hovis workers who continue to picket their workplace in pursuit of pay justice.

“Unite and BFAWU members were holding a legal picket and abiding by social distancing rules last Monday when the PSNI told them and our officials that they were in contravention of the Covid Health Protection Regulations. We moved swiftly to challenge the Department of Health on this interpretation, which flew in the face of changes already made to the law in England, Wales and Scotland. It was unsustainable that Regulations could say it was okay for workers to work together inside a workplace but that a socially-distanced picket outside the gate was in contravention of lockdown rules.

“We welcome the speed of this announcement by the Department of Health. The fact that these Regulations could be amended within three days of our challenge demonstrates the value of having employment law a devolved matter in Northern Ireland”, Mr Pollock concluded.

Unite assistant general secretary for Politics and Legal, Howard Beckett, said “This is another victory for the labour movement brought about by our legal challenge in Northern Ireland. We have had to take similar action in England and Scotland and shows we will not hesitate to use the courts when we need to defend our members.”

“The right to picket is fundamental and 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.

“This result will not just benefit the striking Hovis workers in their fight for pay parity but will stand for as long as this crisis lasts. This victory on picketing means that workers retain the ability to hold bosses to account”.

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