The High Court has granted permission for 11 trade unions to launch a legal challenge against regulations allowing agency workers to replace staff on strike.
In September, 11 trade unions and the TUC announced they would seek a judicial review of the new regulations, which repeal a ban on the use of agency workers to cover employees on strike.
The unions claim the repeal is unlawful because the government failed to consult with them as required by the Employment Agencies Act 1973.
They also claim the new regulations violate trade union rights protected by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to form and join a union.
The challenge is likely to be heard in March and is being coordinated by the TUC with representation from Thompsons Solicitors.
It will be heard along with separate legal cases launched by TUC-affiliated unions Unison and NASUWT against the agency worker regulations.
Agency workers & strikes
The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) has described the proposals as “unworkable”, while the Lords Committee charged with scrutinising the legislation also said there was a “lack of robust evidence” and that the benefit of using agency workers would be limited.
TUC general-secretary Frances O’Grady said that “the right to strike is a fundamental British liberty” that the government is “hellbent” on attacking.
“Threatening this right tilts the balance of power too far towards employers. It means workers can’t stand up for decent services and safety at work – or defend their jobs and pay.
“With inflation at an eye watering 11%, ministers are shamelessly falling over themselves to find new ways to make it harder for working people to bargain for better pay and conditions.
“And these attacks on the right to strike are likely illegal. Ministers failed to consult with unions, as the law requires. And restricting the freedom to strike is a breach of international law.”
The TUC has reported the UK government to the UN workers’ rights watchdog, the International Labour Organization (ILO), over its anti-union stance, arguing that changes to the agency worker regulations are in breach of international law.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak confirmed earlier this month that the government is working on tougher anti-strike laws, although details are currently limited.
O’Grady added: “Working people are suffering the longest and harshest wage squeeze in modern history. They need stronger legal protections and more power in the workplace to defend their living standards – not less.”
Richard Arthur, head of trade union law at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “This is a timely reminder that the government is not above the law when it tries to restrict the rights of working people to take industrial action.
“The Court has agreed with the trade unions that the government’s decision-making should be scrutinised against UK and international legal standards at a hearing to take place from late March onwards.”