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01/01/2019 - New Year message from our general secretary

patharringtonatprotest2018 has been a busy year for Solidarity.

We've successfully defended members at disciplinary hearings, overturned negative decisions at appeal, taken grievances and wage complaints forward and won over £120,000 in financial settlements for members.

We've also represented, on a pro bono basis, non-members who've been denied Personal Independence Payments and other benefits and those wrongly denied Criminal Injuries Compensation. At the heart of all this is our passionate belief that workers deserve a fair deal and that we are a community where everyone matters.

On the legal front one of the key areas in 2018 were the challenges brought by our brothers and sisters in other unions to foil the attempts by some employers, particularly in the 'gig economy' sector to mis-classify workers as self-employed. We've seen good news in Uber B.V. v Aslam and ors where the Court of Appeal upheld the employment tribunal’s decision that Uber drivers are workers and were working when they had their app switched on and were ready and willing to accept trips. The Pimlico Plumbers case (Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another v Smith) also came to a good conclusion for those who don't want employers to be able to avoid granting employment rights by mis-classifying workers as self-employed.

It's not all been good news on this front though. The judicial review application of the Central Arbitration Committee’s (CAC’s) decision that Deliveroo riders were not workers covered by the collective bargaining legislation was disappointingly dismissed by the High Court in R (on the application of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain) v Central Arbitration Committee. The government has conceded that the area requires clarification and the direction of recent judgments, taken as a whole, is favourable to the rights of workers.

Solidarity has also represented both those who have been victims of harassment and discrimination and those falsely accused of being perpetrators. We are 100 per cent against discrimination and harassment and 100 per cent against anyone being falsely accused. Those who bring false accusations undermine those with genuine complaints as well as trashing the good name of those falsely accused. Given our stance on this we welcomed the Supreme Court decision in Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd and others.

They rightly held that a bakery did not discriminate against a gay man when it refused, on the grounds of the owners’ religious beliefs, to bake a cake with a photo of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and the wording 'Support Gay Marriage'.

Mr Lee had previously been successful in his claim in the Northern Irish courts for direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs. However, this decision overturned the previous decisions.

The Supreme Court noted that the bakery had not refused to fulfil the order because of any personal characteristics of Mr Lee or of anyone with whom he was associated; they refused because they objected to the message on the cake.

The Supreme Court also considered the freedoms relating to religion and expression protected under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Those freedoms include a right not to be obliged to manifest a belief which you do not hold and the Court held that an infringement of those rights could not be justified by an obligation to supply a cake iced with a message with which the bakers profoundly disagreed. A commonsense judgment.

Caste discrimination

The government has decided not to add ‘caste’ as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

The government expects that emerging caselaw, such as Chandok v Tirkey in which the EAT held that caste could be protected under the Equality Act 2010 to the extent that it is bound up with ethnic origin, will continue to provide some measure of protection against caste discrimination. Solidarity, who campaigned for caste discrimination to be added as a protected characteristic are bitterly disappointed. We see this as a politically motivated decision based on a desire by the Tories not to upset certain wealthy donors. The victims of caste discrimination deserve better.

2018 saw wins and set-backs for the union movement. Solidarity is a small union that is punching above its weight. We will continue to make our contribution to the wider union struggle in 2019 and fight tooth and nail for the well deserved rights of our members.

Have a happy New Year and look forward to further progress in our union fight in 2019.

Patrick Harrington
general secretary