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TUC - Unions launch legal challenge against government’s “strike-breaking” agency worker regulations

Eleven trade unions, coordinated by the TUC and represented by Thompsons Solicitors LLP, today began legal proceedings to protect the right to strike

The unions – ASLEF, BFAWU, FDA, GMB, NEU, NUJ, POA, PCS, RMT, Unite and Usdaw – have taken the case against the government’s new regulations which allow agency workers to fill in for striking workers and break strikes.

The unions come from a wide range of sectors and represent millions of workers in the UK.

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 change has been heavily criticised by unions, agency employers, and parliamentarians.

The TUC has 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 haven’t been fully trained. 

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

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 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. 

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

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty. But the government is attacking it in broad daylight.

"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.

 “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.”

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.”

Editors note

  • TUC submission to ILO committee of experts, September 2022 https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/tuc-submission-ilo-committee-experts
  • About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.

Contacts:

TUC press office : media@tuc.org.uk  |  020 7467 1248 

Original article link: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/unions-launch-legal-challenge-against-governments-strike-breaking-agency-worker-regulations

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