The High Court has granted permission for Thompsons to lead a legal challenge of anti-worker regulations that undermine the right to strike. The judicial review has been brought by 11 trade unions and coordinated by the TUC.

The unions – ASLEF, BFAWU, FDA, GMB, NEU, NUJ, POA, PCS, RMT, Unite and Usdaw – have brought the case against the government’s new regulations allowing agency workers to fill in for striking workers. The challenge will be heard along with separate legal cases launched by TUC-affiliated unions UNISON and NASUWT against the government’s agency worker regulations, which have also been given the green light by the High Court.

Richard Arthur, head of trade union law at Thompsons Solicitors, which represents the TUC-coordinated unions, 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 the hearing to take place from late March onwards.”

The unions argue that the regulations are unlawful because:

  • The then Secretary of State for Business failed to consult unions, as required by the Employment Agencies Act 1973
  • They violate fundamental trade union rights protected by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The TUC has warned that these new laws will worsen industrial disputes, undermine the fundamental right to strike and could endanger public safety if inexperienced agency staff are required to fill safety critical roles.

The Lords Committee charged with scrutinising the legislation has said that “the lack of robust evidence and the expected limited net benefit raise questions as to the practical effectiveness and benefit” of the new laws.

With industrial action taking place across the economy after years of declining real pay and attacks on working conditions, reports suggest the government is considering yet new ways to restrict workers’ right to strike.

In addition to the agency workers regulations brought in last summer, ministers are already pushing through legislation on minimum service levels in transport – with the bill due for its second reading in the new year.

The TUC recently reported the UK government to the UN workers’ rights watchdog, the International Labour Organization (ILO), over the recent spate of anti-union and anti-worker legislation and proposals, including the government’s agency worker regulations, which it says are in breach of international law.