Trade unions have started legal action against the UK Government to challenge new rules allowing agency workers to replace striking staff.
Trade unions, led by the led by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), have begun judicial review proceedings, claiming that the new legislation permitting businesses to use agency workers to break strikes constitutes a “broad daylight” assault on the ability to organise and participate in labour disputes.
In total, 11 trade unions have applied for permission to have the new regulations implementing the move reviewed by a judge.
The measures were introduced by the government in July 2022 after a wave of strike action across the economy, including strikes by barristers, bus and railway drivers, as workers seek higher pay due to the rising cost of living.
The unions that have joined the legal action include Aslef and RMT, the manufacturing workers’ unions GMB and Unite, the teachers’ union the NEU, and the civil servants’ unions the FDA and PCS.
They contend that the new rules “violate fundamental trade union rights protected by article 11 of the European convention on human rights” and that the Government breached its legal obligation to consult unions before making changes affecting agency workers.
The Recruitment and Employment Confederation, a business lobby group, as well as opposition MPs, both harshly criticised the proposal to allow employers to deploy agency employees to break strikes, claiming it would not be effective.
Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said: “The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty. But the government is attacking it in broad daylight.”
The TUC has already filed a complaint against the Government with the International Labor Organization of the United Nations. If it is found that the proper procedures were not followed, UK courts could order the Government to reconsider its decision.
The Government will now have the opportunity to respond by making an argument against granting a judicial review prior to any formal hearing.