Eleven trade unions and the TUC have launched a judicial review of new regulations that allow organisations to use agency workers during strikes.
The unions argue that the recent decision to repeal the ban on the use of agency workers to cover employees who are on strike is unlawful because the government failed to consult unions as required under 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.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, which is coordinating the legal action, said: “The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty. But the government is attacking it in broad daylight. 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.
“Ministers failed to consult with unions, as the law requires. And restricting the freedom to strike is a breach of international law. That’s why unions are coming together to challenge this change in the courts.”
Using agency workers during strikes
Earlier this month the TUC reported the government to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations’ working standards watchdog, claiming in its submission that the decision to repeal the agency worker ban made it difficult for workers to take effective industrial action.
Richard Arthur, head of trade union law at Thompsons Solicitors, which is representing the unions, said: “The right to strike is respected and protected by international law including the Conventions of the ILO, an agency of the United Nations, and the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The Conservative government should face up to its legal obligations under both domestic and international law, instead of forever trying to undermine the internationally recognised right to strike.”
The unions bringing legal action include trade drivers’ union Aslef, teachers’ union NEU, civil servants union PCS and other major unions including Unite and the GMB.
Unison and teachers’ union NASUWT are also launching separate legal cases against the government, as well as joining the TUC-coordinated claim.
Meanwhile, a rail strike that had been due to take place last week but was postponed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II has been rescheduled. Railway workers on Network Rail and 14 train operating companies, who are members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), will now strike on 1 October in an ongoing dispute over pay, job security and working conditions.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We want a settlement to these disputes where our members and their families can get a square deal. And we will not rest until we get a satisfactory outcome.”
In a separate pay dispute, train drivers at 12 companies who are members of the Aslef union will strike on 1 and 5 October.
General secretary Mick Whelan said: “We would much rather not be in this position. We don’t want to go on strike – withdrawing our labour, although a fundamental human right, is always a last resort for this trade union – but the train companies have been determined to force our hand.”