CARE workers at an East Lancashire provider have won the right not to be disciplined for taking part in strike action.

This comes after a tribunal ruled on Wednesday June 2 that Alternative Futures Group, which has facilities in Blackburn, Burnley and Accrington, did not have the right to take disciplinary action against staff who took part in strikes.

The ruling, which will affect workers across the entire care sector, was prompted over a case brought by AFG care worker Fiona Mercer who said that her employers disciplined, suspended, and prevented from going into work after she took part in a long-running dispute over the care providers plans to cut payment for sleep-in shifts.

UNISON general secretary Christine McAnea said: “Good employers have nothing to fear from today’s judgment, but those who’ve been treating staff unfairly because they’ve taken strike action will need to beware.

“Employees don’t actively seek to get involved in disputes at work, but staff are often left with little other option when employers behave badly."

Ms Mercer and UNISON had originally taken AFG to an employment tribunal in Manchester in May 2020.

UK law had previously prevented employers from sacking staff involved in strike action or other workplace disputes, but not from disciplining them.

However, although the tribunal originally found that this wasn’t compatible with international human rights law, it decided it wouldn’t be taking further action.

UNION and Mrs Mercer appealed, and as a result the tribunal has now found in their favour.

The tribunal president has now amended the law to protect care workers who have taken part in industrial disputes, adding wording to the Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 to this effect.

Ms McAnea said: “Until now, employers have used a loophole in UK law to pick on workers who’ve taken part in disputes, safe in the knowledge that nothing will happen to them, now they’ll no longer be able to.

“This is an important victory for UK workers, it confirms that if ever they need to take legal action over pay, holidays or other workplace issues, unions can protect them from employer bullying and harassment.”

However, AFG has denied that the action taken against Fiona Mercer was due to her involvement in strike action and said it was considering the next step in the legal process.

A spokesperson said: "We acknowledge the outcome of the EAT and are currently considering next steps with our legal advisers.

"We wish to make it clear the action taken against Mrs Mercer by us was for an entirely unrelated matter and in no way connected with her trade union activities or her right to organise and take part in industrial action."