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High Court grants unions permission to challenge plans for agency workers to cover for striking staff

14 Dec 2022 4 minute read
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) on the picket line. Photo Jacob King PA Images

The High Court has granted permission for a legal challenge to the UK Government’s controversial move to allow agency workers to cover for strikers.

The case is being brought by 11 trade unions, coordinated by the TUC, which said a hearing will be held from late March.

The unions – ASLEF, BFAWU, FDA, GMB, NEU, NUJ, POA, PCS, RMT, Unite and Usdaw – represent millions of workers.

The challenge will be heard along with separate legal cases launched by Unison and the NASUWT.

The TUC said the move was a “major blow” to Government attempts to undermine workers’ right to strike for better pay and conditions.

Fundamental

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty but the Government seems hellbent on attacking it at every opportunity.

“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.

“With inflation at an eyewatering 11%, ministers are shamelessly falling over themselves to find new ways to make it harder for working people to bargain for better pay and conditions.

“These attacks on the right to strike 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 challenge this change in the courts.

“Working people are suffering the longest and harshest wage squeeze in modern history. They 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, which represents the TUC-coordinated unions, said: “This is a timely reminder that the Government is not above the law when it tries to restrict the rights of working people to take industrial action.

“The court has agreed with the trade unions that the government’s decision-making should be scrutinised against UK and international legal standards at a hearing to take place from late March onwards.”

Step forward

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said: “The court’s approval of this case marks an important step forward. The Government’s regulations seek to further undermine and weaken the rights of all workers, including teachers, to take legitimate industrial action.

“The right to strike is enshrined in international law, yet the Government is attempting to prevent teachers and other workers taking collective action to defend their jobs, pay and working conditions.

“This legislation is a direct contravention of the Government’s international commitments and obligations and it is right that this legislation will now be scrutinised at the High Court.

“Rather than eroding the rights of workers, the Government should be focused on improving the pay and working conditions of all workers, including agency workers, tackling the cost of living crisis, prohibiting the use of zero hours contracts, and ensuring that agency workers have the rights of all other workers from day one.”

Prison Officers Association general secretary Steve Gillan said: “The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty which this union have been denied since 1994. We considered that to be unjust in 1994 and we consider it to be unjust now.

“The Government seems hellbent on attacking unions at every opportunity, and the POA will stand shoulder to shoulder with our sister unions in defending Trade Union rights”.

POA chairman Mark Fairhurst, said: “With inflation at an eyewatering 11%, ministers are shamelessly falling over themselves to find new ways to make it harder for working people to bargain for better pay and conditions.

“That’s why unions are coming together to challenge this change in the courts.

“Working people are suffering the longest and harshest wage squeeze in modern history. They need stronger legal protections and more power in the workplace to defend their living standards – not less.”


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Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
1 month ago

The battle between employer profit and employee working conditions has leaned towards the employer for 40years, since Thatcher decimated the Unions. There has to be a balance, yes companies need to make a profit but not at the expense of the employee. If the employer refuses to listen to employee concerns – the empoyee should have the right to strike, it’ll be the only option left open.

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