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Usdaw joins a TUC co-ordinated legal challenge against the Government’s “strike-breaking” agency worker regulations

Date: 20 September 2022 Retail trade union Usdaw is one of eleven trade unions to launch a judicial review of “anti-worker” regulations which “undermine the right to strike”. They are being coordinated by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and represented by Thompsons Solicitors LLP.
The unions come from a wide range of sectors and represent millions of workers in the UK. As well as Usdaw they include: ASLEF, BFAWU, FDA, GMB, NEU, NUJ, POA, PCS, RMT and Unite. They have taken the case against the Government’s new regulations which allow agency workers to fill in for striking workers and break strikes.
The unions argue that the regulations are unlawful because:
  • The then Secretary of State for business failed to consult unions, as required by the Employment Agencies Act 1973.
  • They violate fundamental trade union rights protected by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 
The Government’s changes have been heavily criticised by unions, agency employers and parliamentarians. The TUC has warned these new laws will worsen industrial disputes, undermine the fundamental right to strike and could endanger public safety if agency staff are required to fill safety critical roles but haven’t been fully trained.
The Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which represents suppliers of agency workers, described the proposals as “unworkable”.  The Lords Committee charged with scrutinising the legislation said “the lack of robust evidence and the expected limited net benefit raise questions as to the practical effectiveness and benefit” of the new laws.
The judicial review being brought by the eleven unions comes after both UNISON and NASUWT recently launched legal cases against the Government over the regulations. The TUC also recently reported the UK Government to the UN workers’ rights watchdog, the International Labour Organization (ILO), over the recent spate of anti-union and anti-worker legislation and proposals, including the government’s agency worker regulations, which it says are in breach of international law.
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “It beggars belief that, in the midst of a cost of living emergency, the Government has chosen to launch an ideological attack on trade union members engaged in lawful industrial action to secure a fairer deal. Such an attack on people protecting their incomes clearly demonstrates they have little understanding of the very real issues that face workers.
“Instead of undermining trade union members, the Government should be working with us on urgent plans to eliminate low-pay and insecure work. The new PM would do well to adopt Labour’s New Deal for Workers. With an estimated 12 million households facing fuel poverty, the British public will be disgusted with a new Prime Minister that is prioritising attacks on trade unions over tackling the cost of living crisis that the Tories themselves have created.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady 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. That’s why unions are coming together to challenge this change in the courts. Workers 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 LLP, said: “The right to strike is respected and protected by international law including the Conventions of the ILO, an agency of the United Nations, and the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The Conservative government should face up to its legal obligations under both domestic and international law, instead of forever trying to undermine the internationally recognised right to strike.”
Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with around 360,000 members. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemical industry and other trades.
TUC submission to ILO committee of experts, September 2022: https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/tuc-submission-ilo-committee-experts
Labour’s New Deal for Workers: www.usdaw.org.uk/LaboursNDW
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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