High Court finds strike-breaking legislation unlawful following UNISON case  

Mr Justice Linden has today upheld the claims of UNISON and other unions that the government acted unfairly, unlawfully and irrationally.

Employers can no longer use agency staff to fill in for striking workers during industrial action after the High Court ruled that government legislation introduced last year is unlawful, says UNISON today (Thursday).

The important judgment handed down this morning follows successful judicial review proceedings lodged by UNISON and other TUC unions last autumn.

For more than 40 years, it was illegal in the UK to supply agency workers for employers to use to cover the jobs of staff on strike, says UNISON.

But in the early summer of 2022, the then Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng decided that was going to change. Against the advice of civil servants, the secretary of state rushed through new laws, without any proper consultation.

This gave a green light to employers wanting to bring in agency workers to break strikes and dint the morale of their staff reluctantly taking industrial action, says the union.

Following a hearing in May at the High Court, Mr Justice Linden has today upheld the claims of UNISON and other unions that the government acted unfairly, unlawfully and irrationally.

The judgment means this piece of strike-breaking legislation is now quashed and is now removed from the statute book, says UNISON. The judge also warned the government that any attempt to change strike laws in future would need to be subject to a rigorous consultation.

Commenting on the judgment, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “No one ever wants to go on strike. But when that difficult decision has been taken, employers should be throwing everything but the kitchen sink at ending a dispute, not inflaming tensions by undermining staff.

“This futile piece of legislation has barely spent a year on the statute book. Parachuting untrained agency workers into the midst of industrial hostilities isn’t fair or safe for them, the public or the staff out on strike.

“This is embarrassing for ministers. Not only did Kwasi Kwarteng help trash the economy as chancellor, now his bulldozer attitude when business secretary has made the government look extremely foolish.

“With his fingers stuck firmly in his ears, Kwasi Kwarteng ignored the advice of almost everyone around him, showing a total disregard for working people and their historic rights.

“Hopefully the government has learned a big lesson. If ministers act in haste, they’ll end up repenting at leisure as this judgment proves.

“To spare themselves future shame, ministers should ditch their ill-advised strikes bill, and focus instead on working with unions to solve the country’s many problems.”

Notes to editors: 

A copy of the judgement is available here.
The legislation repealed by the law introduced by the government last July was Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003. This will now be reinstated as a result of today’s ruling.

-*The legislation quashed by the judicial review is the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

-From 1976 until July 2022, regulations made it unlawful for employment agencies to supply agency workers to an employer to carry out the work of employees taking industrial action. The judgment highlights that the strike-breaking legislation was introduced with undue haste and without proper regard for the views of unions and their members. Civil servants had advised the business secretary his proposed legislation would be of negligible benefit and counterproductive too.

-The other unions co-ordinated by the TUC case are ASLEF, BFAWU, FDA, GMB, NEU, NUJ, POA, RMT, Unite and Usdaw. NASUWT were also a party to the case.

-UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police and justice and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts: Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.ukFatima Ayad M: 07508 080383 E: f.ayad@unison.co.uk