UNISON takes the government to court over law allowing the use of agency workers to break strike

Ministers are risking everyone’s safety by allowing the use of inexperienced agency workers

Legal action against the government over new regulations allowing agency workers to replace striking staff has been launched by UNISON.

The union issued proceedings with the High Court last week (13 September), triggering the start of a process seeking a judicial review of the government’s decision. UNISON is arguing that ministers’ changes are unlawful and should be axed.

Business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has 21 days to respond from the date the case was lodged last Tuesday.

UNISON is arguing the government’s change to the Conduct Regulations 2003* is unfair and based on unreliable evidence. These regulations previously protected employees’ right to strike and ensured agency workers could not replace them.

The union is critical of ministers for using what it says are out-of-date and discredited findings from a 2015 consultation. The government did this to justify the change, which came into law this July.

UNISON’s legal team aims to show that the government has ignored Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights​. This protects the right to freedom of association and international labour standards on the right to strike, says the union.

Separately, the TUC is co-ordinating similar legal action involving 11 other unions to get the regulations scrapped. If UNISON and the TUC secure the court’s permission to proceed, it is likely all the arguments will be heard together.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The government appears hell-bent on stripping ordinary working people of their historic rights and seems prepared to do anything to achieve that.

“Employees striking for better wages during a cost-of-living crisis is not the problem. Ministers should be rolling up their sleeves and helping solve disputes, not risking everyone’s safety by allowing the use of inexperienced agency workers.

“Changing the law in such a hostile and unpleasant way makes it much harder for workers to stand up to dodgy employers. It also risks limiting the impact of any legal strike.”

Notes to editors:
– The unions involved in the TUC’s action are ASLEF, BFAWU, FDA, GMB, NEU, NUJ, POA, PCS, RMT, Unite and Usdaw.
– *The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.