In addition to legislation allowing employers to use agency staff as strike breakers, the government has recently announced the introduction of legislation increasing the maximum damages that courts can award against a union in the event that the strike action was found to be unlawful.
Currently, employers have the right under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 to bring a claim for damages against a union which they believe has organised or authorised an unlawful strike. Under the Act, the damages that can be awarded are subject to an upper limit, based on the size of the union. Currently these range from £10,000 to £250,000.
From 21 July 2022, the minimum award of £10,000 will rise to £40,000; the second level of award of £50,000 will rise to £200,000; the third level of £125,000 will rise to £500,000; and for the biggest unions, the maximum award will rise from £250,000 to £1 million.
The government has justified the measure on the basis that it “is simply increasing the damages caps for unlawful strike action to broadly the levels they would have been at, had they been updated regularly since 1982”.
Richard Arthur, Head of Trade Union law at Thompsons, commented that: “These announcements come in the middle of the national rail strikes, and as criticism of the government’s handling of the cost of living crisis escalates. This government’s response is to bring in measures designed to undermine industrial action and to intimidate trade unions.
“The government’s so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda has been exposed once again as a lie. The government has found time to impose new burdens on trade unions through the implementation of the Certification Officer’s new powers, to remove the ban on the use of agency workers to cover during industrial action and to increase the damages that can be recovered from trade unions. Yet still there is no sign of the Employment Bill, promised as long ago as December 2019."
To read the wording of The Liability of Trade Unions in Proceedings in Tort (Increase of Limits on Damages) Order 2022 in full, click here.