Legal action by unions representing school workers against the government’s new law allowing agency workers to cover strike action has been given the green-light by the High Court.
Unions said today the court will hear three separate judicial reviews of the legislation, which was introduced in July in response to threats of widespread industrial action over pay. It was previously illegal to draft agency staff in to cover striking workers.
Action by the Trades Union Congress backed by the National Education Union and support staff unions GMB and Unite will be heard alongside judicial reviews brought by teaching union NASUWT and Unison, which also represents school support staff.
The unions argue the legislation is unlawful, and that they were not consulted over the change. The cases are expected to be heard from March next year.
Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT’s general secretary, said the law change “seeks 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.
‘Focus on improving pay and conditions’
“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.”
It comes as both NASUWT and the NEU are balloting members in schools across England for national strike action.
The NAHT headteachers’ union is also balloting over pay for the first time in its 125-year history, and school leaders’ union ASCL is holding an indicative ballot, which is again unprecedented.
The government offered most teachers a pay rise of 5 per cent this year, though starting salaries rose by 8.9 per cent.
Support staff unions recently accepted an offer of a 10.5 per cent hike for the lowest-paid and just over 4 per cent for higher earners. Inflation is currently at 10.7 per cent.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the right to strike was a “fundamental British liberty. But this government seems hellbent on attacking it at every opportunity.
“With inflation at an eyewatering 11 per cent, ministers are shamelessly falling over themselves to find new ways to make it harder for working people to bargain for better pay and conditions.
“And 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.”