On behalf of 13 trade unions, Thompsons Solicitors has sent a pre-action judicial review letter to the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, challenging new regulations that allow businesses to use agency workers to break legitimate industrial action. He has 14 days to respond before the claim is filed.

The unions involved are ASLEF, BFAWU, BALPA, FDA, GMB, NEU, RMT, POA, PCS, UCU, USDAW, Unite and the NUJ.

The letter explains that the new regulations, introduced by the government in July, are a violation of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides for freedom of assembly and association.

It also points out that the new regulations violate the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement under which the UK is required to respect, promote and implement internationally recognised core labour standards, including those relating to freedom of association and the recognition of the right to collective bargaining.

The letter also argues that the business secretary has failed to discharge the obligation to consult with affected bodies, as required under the Employment Agencies Act 1973.

The government has justified the move on the basis that the new regulations will allow businesses to “fill vital roles with temporary, skilled workers”. However, it is unclear how exactly they will be able to attract workers with the necessary skills at short notice.

Richard Arthur, head of trade union law at Thompsons Solicitors, commented that:

“The Conservative party won the 2019 General Election on the promise of raising standards in workers’ rights, and ‘levelling-up’.

“They have been determined to do the exact opposite. Whether it’s promises to remove retained EU workers’ rights or making it more difficult to organise industrial action, this government has shown its commitment to removing the means by which workers will get the pay rises they need to see them through the costs of living crisis.

“The new agency worker regulations were supposed to appease the right of the Conservative party. That tactic didn’t work. Now we see Liz Truss talking of increasing minimum voter thresholds for industrial action, doubling the minimum strike action notice period to four weeks, and introducing a ‘cooling off’ period’ for strike action.

“Internationally protected trade union rights are being used as red meat to feed, first to Boris Johnson’s detractors, and now to the Conservative party’s members in the leadership election.

“If the business secretary won’t see sense, then he’ll face a judicial review.”