Blog: an Evening with Employment Law Expert John Hendy QC - CONEL
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Blog: an Evening with Employment Law Expert John Hendy QC

On 9 February, Lord John Hendy QC, a barrister who has spent his career working in industrial relations and employment law, spoke to students on CONEL’s TUC Contemporary Trade Unionism course.

Blog: an Evening with Employment Law Expert John Hendy QC

A champion of the trade union movement and acknowledged as one of the country’s leading experts in UK labour law, Lord Hendy is counsel to a number of trade unions and has been involved in countless high-profile cases, from the Leveson inquiry and the Ladbroke Grove Train Crash inquiry of 1999, to the Grenfell Tower inquiry. He was made a peer in 2019.

Barry James, a student on the course, has written this interesting blog about Lord Hendy’s career and his talk to the students.

An evening with John Hendy QC

My name is Barry James and I am studying TUC Contemporary Trade Unionism at CONEL.

I worked on London Underground for just under 14 years as a frontline worker and was an industrial relations rep for the Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) throughout most of that time. From the very start the addictive nature of trade unionism soon led me down many different avenues within the movement and ultimately I left the underground in 2019 to work with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, then for Jeremy Corbyn when he was Labour leader, and finally my current role as a Constituency Support Officer for the former GMB official and current Luton North MP, Sarah Owen. It has also inspired me to stand for TSSA President in which I am currently in the middle of campaigning for.

This course has focussed my attention and has given me knowledge of the incredible and mostly unheard history of trade unionism in this country. The sort of things school history books don’t tell you about but should. This, along with the modern interpretation and philosophical debate included in the course has given me a real grounding and understanding of the movement I currently work in and love. It certainly helps that it is presented by an erudite tutor and attended by passionate students from a variety of industries.

I was lucky enough to have come across Lord John Hendy QC during my time with the Leader of the Opposition’s office while Labour were formulating their policy around workers’ rights. John is Chair of the Institute of Employment Rights. He is a barrister in Old Square Chambers, London and is standing counsel to eight unions: ASLEF, CWU, NUJ, NUM, POA, RMT, UCU, and UNITE. He is also President of the International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR) and a Vice-President of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom. He is an honorary professor at University College, London.

n 2019 he was made a peer by then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He has previously represented groups and individuals from the miners and the NUM during the strikes of the 1980s, the NUJ and victims of phone hacking at the Leveson enquiry, and currently the former residents of Grenfell Tower, amongst many other groups.

On 9th February, he kindly came and spoke during our lecture about the current state of the trade unions, employment rights, and his life experiences as a barrister of over 40 years. He spoke about:

  • The methods used by unscrupulous employers within the gig economy;
  • Attacks on trade unions such as the 2016 Trade Union Act;
  • Issues such as blacklisting and institutional racism;
  • The deliberate and damaging underfunding of trade union education and its generational effect on the future of trade unions;
  • The future of trade unions including a lot of praise for the new grassroots unions such as United Voices of the World (UVW) and the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB);
  • His experience of Parliament and the lack of trade unionists within it and the difficulties he had faced from MPs and peers who did not share the same values and ideals as him.

Rachel, a fellow student, Tesco worker and USDAW rep, had this to say:

“Thanks for arranging with your colleagues for us to hear John, if labour law interested me before this course, it fascinates me now. How all this fits into the day job and the wider context of social, economic and political spheres. Feel like I am at the start of a journey which I wish I had started about 30 years ago!”

I would like to thank John for coming and it was a real privilege to hear such a giant of the social justice movement speak and I left the lecture invigorated and inspired. Thank you also to Dave Smith and the other tutors who brought him in. Courses such as mine are essential in providing inspiration for future trade unionists.

Barry James


Queen's Award for Enterprise