During September and October, I was proud to be working with the Workers’ Educational Association Scotland in delivering a training course titled Whit’s Sae Wrang Wi’ Human Richts? The idea was to help students understand the Government’s proposed changes in Human Rights legislation, consider the implications and contribute to a more informed debate.

In delivering the course, I also learnt a lot about both human rights as a topic and about attitudes towards them in the UK.

Wow, do we take human rights for granted!

There are regular stories in the tabloids about the extreme cases that have ended up in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and the current proposals suggest that control needs to be taken back into the UK courts. The fascinating aspect is that the Human Rights Act was developed to do just that – prior to its enactment the only recourse people had was through Strasbourg, afterwards they had the whole UK court system to go through to find a resolution so now only a handful of cases (only 4 in 2014) reach the EHCR.

It was also fascinating to see how the media draws out the human rights aspects of a story only in certain circumstances. The people fleeing from war and physical danger in North Africa started as a “swarm of migrants”, became “refugees” when a small boy was found dead after his attempted journey to freedom, and reverted to “migrants” again when the suggestion was made that the UK should perhaps accept more of them.

Not once in all the coverage did I see a mention of the human rights of these people – Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, while Article 14 says “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.  Perhaps these Articles fell into a political blind spot…

More concerning are the human rights that we have singularly failed to observe in this country. Article 23 of the UDHR, to which all countries in the world(*) are signatories, provides that “Everyone, without discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work” and “Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration”. The continuing pay gap between men and women is witness to the fact that the UK has yet to fully grasp the nettle of human rights and to deliver what needs to be delivered to meet a commitment that we made almost 70 years ago.

And so to the Trade Union Bill, defeated at the second reading in the House of Lords.  The newspaper headlines are all about the impact on Labour Party funding, seemingly ignoring the implications for trade unions and their ability to organise industrial action, especially to strike.  A week ago, Lorna McGregor, a Commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “As it stands, the Trade Union Bill is in danger of imposing potentially unlawful restrictions on everyone’s basic human right to strike. Joining a trade union and peacefully picketing outside workplaces is a right not a privilege and restrictions have to be properly justified and proportionate.”

Which leads to one inevitable conclusion – industrial relations are a human rights issue!

(*) except Vatican City