13 Mar 2019

Ognevenko v Russia [2019] IRLR 195

Facts

Mr Ognevenko was a train driver with Russian Railways. He took part in a strike organised by his trade union. He was dismissed because Russian legislation prohibited strikes of railway workers responsible for the circulation of trains, shunting, and services to passengers. These provisions were aimed at securing safety on the railway. Mr Ognevenko complained to the European Court of Human Rights that his dismissal had been in breach of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to freedom of association). The question for the Court was whether the interference with the rights protected by Article 11 was justified, and necessary in a democratic society. The Russian Government claimed that railway transport was an essential service and that some categories of railway workers could be prohibited from participating in strikes if those strikes threatened the country's defence, State security or the life or health of people.

Decision

The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 11. Strike action is protected by Article 11 but the right to strike is not absolute and may be limited by national law. There was international consensus that restrictions might be imposed on the right to strike of workers providing essential services to the population. Railway transport was not an essential service, an interruption of which could endanger the life or health of a part of the population.

Comment

The Trade Union Act 2016 imposes an additional balloting requirement of a favourable vote from 40% of those entitled to vote in the ballot in order for industrial action by workers in a range of "important services" – including rail transport – to be lawful. This may now be open to challenge.