UK unions seek legal review of government’s strike-breaking laws | Business

Trade unions have launched legal proceedings against the UK government, arguing that new laws allowing companies to use agency workers to break strikes are a “broad daylight” attack on the right to take industrial action.

Eleven trade unions, led by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), have sought permission for a judicial review of new regulations making the change.

The government brought forward the regulations in July amid an increased number of strikes this year held by workers ranging from barristers to dockers and train drivers. It comes amid a cost of living crisis that has led to increased pay demands by workers.

The new prime minister, Liz Truss, this summer responded to strikes with a pledge of “tough and decisive action to limit trade unions’ ability to paralyse our economy” within her first 30 days of taking office – although that promise may have been delayed by the mourning period for the Queen. The chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, and the business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, have also repeatedly promised action to weaken unions’ power.

The unions joining the legal action include Aslef and RMT, which have staged a series of strikes by transport workers that have severely affected the UK rail network this summer, as well as the manufacturing workers’ unions GMB and Unite, the teachers’ union the NEU, and the civil servants’ unions the FDA and PCS.

They argue that the government failed in its legal duty to consult unions before the agency workers change, and that the regulations “violate fundamental trade union rights protected by article 11 of the European convention on human rights”.

The plan to allow companies to use agency workers to break strikes faced heavy criticism from opposition MPs, as well as from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, a business lobby group, which argued the plan would not work.

The TUC has already reported the government to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization, but the UK courts would have the ability to force the government to retake the decision if it was found that the proper process had not been carried out.

The request for a judicial review will present an early test of the new cabinet’s professed anti-union stance. The government will have a chance to argue that a judicial review should not be granted before any formal hearing.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, 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.”

The request for the review is being managed by Thompsons Solicitors, a firm that regularly works with trade unions.

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