Sunday, November 15, 2015
Article Analysis: Social Media Policy Debate in British Labor Law
Henry Austin – Trade Union Bill: Sajid Javid Drops Social Media Measures as Part of Government Climb Down – The Independent – 3 November 2015
Henry Austin’s article for the Independent, a centre-left newspaper published in the United Kingdom, focuses on political reactions to a Trade Union Bill that addressed important social media issues for laborers in the United Kingdom. The Bill was proposed by Sajid Javid, a Conservative (Tory) Member Parliament and Minister of Business.
The article focuses on the United Kingdom’s Tory-led government’s failed attempt to push a Trade Union Bill through Parliament that would have required all Union Members taking part in industrial action to report to police exactly how they planned to use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to organize during strikes. The Bill would have required at least two weeks notice to be given to police by union organizers and strike participants prior to strike activity.
Opponents to the Trade Union Bill have argued that it is designed to limit the ability of trade unions to use social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter during strikes. The Bill, which is regarded by the Labour Party of the United Kingdom as an attempt to limit the ability of labor unions to engage in concerted activity, would require trade union members to disclose any plans to the police which could limit the effectiveness of their activity and could limit their ability to use social media in real time. The Bill has been criticized by domestic and international human rights groups, including Amnesty International, for going too far in requiring trade union members to share personal information regarding their use of social media.
While several articles published in regard to the Trader Union Bill addressed some of the legal and political implications of the bill, this article addresses key civil liberty issues that are at the heart of concerns over the use of emerging technologies like online social media. While the article does not specifically address social media’s place in British Labor Law, it addresses concerns over privacy and other civil liberty issues that were debated in Parliament when the Bill was proposed. The Trade Union Bill raises several critical questions about social media’s place in society and how it should be viewed under the law.
Like the United States, the United Kingdom has developed a robust labor law system that protects a worker’s right to join a union, participate in concerted activity as a worker and even participate in strikes and other activities with organized labor. Labor law protects a worker right to organize, which includes the right to communicate with other members of a union, to recruit new members, and hold elections and meetings as a union. Labor law allows for some limitations, such as time and place restraints on where activity can occur and where unions may recruit new members. However, it is currently unclear where social media platforms fall within labor law. Whether online social media accounts and their activity are protected platforms for concerted activity in all circumstances, and even whether the union and its members have a right to privacy with regard to their social media accounts, is still a hotly debated issue.
For more information, please see:
Financial Times – Unions Welcome Government’s Social Media Climbdown – 3 November 2015
The Guardian – Trade Union Bill: Police ‘Dread And Fear’ Social Media Plan – 15 October 2015