Trade unions join forces to challenge government regulations that they claim undermine the right to strike.
The High Court is set to hear a legal challenge initiated by eleven trade unions against the UK government's controversial "strike-breaking" agency worker regulations. Coordinated by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and represented by Richard Arthur from Thompsons Solicitors, the unions are striving to protect the fundamental right to strike. The hearing will conclude tomorrow, with the judgment expected in a few weeks.
The unions - Aslef, BFAWU, FDA, GMB, NEU, NUJ, POA, PCS, RMT, Unite, and Usdaw - represent millions of workers across various sectors in the UK. The legal challenge seeks to oppose the government's changes to the law that permit agencies to provide employers with temporary staff to replace striking workers.
The TUC has vowed to fight government attacks on the right to strike relentlessly, even through the courts. The legal battle coincides with separate cases brought forth by TUC-affiliated unions UNISON and NASUWT against the government's agency worker regulations alterations.
Arguments against the agency worker regulations
Trade unions argue that the regulations are unlawful for several reasons, including:
1. The former Secretary of State for business failed to consult unions as mandated by the Employment Agencies Act 1973.
2. The regulations infringe upon trade union rights protected under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Critics, including the TUC, agency employers, and parliamentarians, contend that the amendments to the agency worker regulations overturn a long-standing ban on agency workers substituting strikers.
Working people need stronger legal protections and more power in the workplace to defend their living standards – not less.
Paul Nowak, TUC General Secretary
The TUC warns that the changes will exacerbate industrial disputes, undermine the right to strike, and potentially jeopardise public safety if untrained agency staff are assigned safety-critical roles. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), representing agency worker suppliers, has deemed the proposals "unworkable."
Moreover, the Lords Committee responsible for examining the legislation questioned the practical effectiveness and benefits of the new rules, citing the lack of solid evidence and limited net gains.
TUC General Secretary, Paul Nowak, said: “This government is brazenly attacking the right to strike. First by cynically changing the law to allow employers to hire agency workers to fill in for striking workers, and now with the draconian anti-strikes Bill.
“Bringing in less qualified agency staff to deliver important services could endanger public safety, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations.
“And these strike-breaking agency regulations are likely illegal. 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 fight these attacks all the way – including in the courts.
On the Strikes Bill and further attacks on the right to strike, Paul added: “With inflation running at more than 10%, ministers are falling over themselves to find new ways to make it harder for working people to bargain for better pay and conditions.
“It’s time to ditch the draconian anti-strikes Bill and protect the right to strike.
“Working people need stronger legal protections and more power in the workplace to defend their living standards – not less.”