Unions launch legal challenge against UK government to protect right to strike

·Business Reporter, Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers joins other union members on strike
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT joins other union members on strike at a picket line outside Euston railway station in London. Photo: Reuters/Henry Nicholls

As many as 11 trade unions have begun legal proceedings against the UK government to protect the right to strike, it has been revealed.

The judicial review of “anti-worker” regulations has been coordinated by the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) and is represented by Thompsons Solicitors LLP.

The unions, which come from a wide range of sectors and represent millions of workers in the UK, have been named as ASLEF, BFAWU, FDA, GMB, NEU, NUJ, POA, PCS, RMT, Unite and Usdaw.

They have taken the case against the government’s new regulations which allow agency workers to fill in for striking workers and break strike.

Read more: Four in 10 travel insurance policies offer no cover for cancellations caused by strikes

The unions are arguing that the regulations are unlawful because the previous Secretary of State for Business failed to consult unions, as required by the Employment Agencies Act 1973.

The regulations also violate fundamental trade union rights protected by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, they said.

The TUC warned these new laws will worsen industrial disputes, undermine the fundamental right to strike, and could endanger public safety if agency staff are required to fill safety critical roles but have not been fully trained.

Meanwhile, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), which represents suppliers of agency workers, also described the proposals as “unworkable”.

Watch: UK rail strikes: What are the reasons behind the walk-out?

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

The TUC also recently reported the UK government to the UN workers’ rights watchdog, the International Labour Organisation (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.

TUC affiliated unions UNISON and NASUWT are also launching separate individual legal cases against the government’s agency worker regulations.

“The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty. But the government is attacking it in broad daylight,” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said.

"Threatening this right tilts the balance of power too far towards employers. It means workers can't stand up for decent services and safety at work – or defend their jobs and pay."

Read more: Pound and gold down ahead of Bank of England and Fed meetings

She added: “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 challenge this change in the courts. Workers need stronger legal protections and more power in the workplace to defend their living standards – not less.”

It comes as rail workers are set to stage more strikes in October as part of a long-running dispute over pay.

A strike had been planned for 15 September, but was postponed following the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth.

Similarly, Royal Mail (RMG.L) workers were due to stage the second day of a 48-hour strike in a dispute over pay and conditions, but also called it off during the period of national mourning.

Richard Arthur, head of trade union law at Thompsons Solicitors LLP, said: “The right to strike is respected and protected by international law including the Conventions of the ILO, an agency of the United Nations, and the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The Conservative government should face up to its legal obligations under both domestic and international law, instead of forever trying to undermine the internationally recognised right to strike.”

Watch: How does inflation affect interest rates?