Unions take legal action against UK government law change to undermine strikes

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Members of the Railway, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) on the picket line. Photo Jacob King PA Images

Unions have taken legal action against the UK government over its new law allowing employers to hire agency workers to replace striking staff.

The TUC and Unison are bringing separate lawsuits following widespread anger over the change to the law, which was announced earlier this summer following industrial action over the railways.

The TUC is taking action on behalf of 11 unions representing train drivers, prison officers, railway staff, civil servants, journalists, shop workers and others, representing millions of workers, arguing that the regulations are illegal because the then Secretary of State for Business, Kwasi Kwarteng, did not consult with trade unions as required by the Employment Agencies Act 1973.

The TUC also claims that the regulations violate fundamental trade union rights protected by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The TUC warns that the new law will aggravate industrial disputes, undermine the fundamental right to strike and could endanger public safety if agency staff are required to perform critical safety roles but have not not been fully formed.

Recruitment firms have also criticized the regulations.

Fundamental freedom

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

“Threatening this right tilts the balance of power too much in favor of employers. This means that workers cannot defend decent services and workplace safety or defend their jobs and wages.

“Ministers failed to consult with unions, as required by law, and restricting the freedom to strike is a violation of international law. This is why the unions are coming together to challenge this change in court.

“Workers need stronger legal protections and more power in the workplace to defend their standard of living – not less.”

Richard Arthur of Thompsons Solicitors, who is coordinating the TUC case, said: “The right to strike is respected and protected by international law, including the conventions of the ILO (International Labor Organization), a United Nations agency , and the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The Conservative government should face up to its legal obligations under national and international law, instead of continually trying to undermine the internationally recognized right to strike.

Historical rights

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘The government is determined to strip ordinary working people of their historic rights and appears ready to do anything to achieve this.

“Employees striking for better wages during a cost of living crisis are not the problem. Ministers should roll up their sleeves and help resolve conflicts, without risking everyone’s safety by authorizing the use of inexperienced interims.

“Changing the law in such a hostile and unpleasant way makes it much harder for workers to stand up to dodgy employers and risks limiting the impact of any legal strikes. Until ministers get the cost of living crisis under control, desperate employees and their unions will continue to strike for fair pay.

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