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Unions challenge legality of government’s new strike rules

With nurses in the UK to be balloted on potential strike action, a legal challenge has been made over rules allowing use of bank and agency staff during strikes
Northern Ireland nurse picket line in 2020

With nurses in the UK to be balloted on potential strike action, a legal challenge has been made over rules allowing use of bank and agency staff during strikes

Trade unions have launched legal action against new rules that will allow agency and bank staff to fill in for nurses and other healthcare workers in the event of a strike.

Government’s new strike rules ‘violate fundamental trade union rights’

In total, 11 unions, including the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Unite and GMB, are bringing the case against the government, arguing the new regulations are illegal because ministers ‘failed to consult unions’ as required by law. They claim the rules ‘violate fundamental trade union rights’.

With nurses in the UK to be balloted on potential strike action, a legal challenge has been made over rules allowing use of bank and agency staff during strikes

A Northern Ireland nursing pay demonstration in 2020 Picture: Alamy

Trade unions have launched legal action against new rules that will allow agency and bank staff to fill in for nurses and other healthcare workers in the event of a strike.

Government’s new strike rules ‘violate fundamental trade union rights’

In total, 11 unions, including the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Unite and GMB, are bringing the case against the government, arguing the new regulations are illegal because ministers ‘failed to consult unions’ as required by law. They claim the rules ‘violate fundamental trade union rights’.

In July, MPs approved a change to the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations Act of 2003, which allows employers to use agency nurses – and bank nurses employed by external providers – during a strike.

The change has been heavily criticised by unions who raised concerns the move will compromise agency nurses who are union members, should they be asked to cross picket lines.

The TUC has also warned the new rules will worsen industrial disputes by undermining the fundamental right to strike and could put patient safety at risk if agency staff are required to fill roles they are not trained to do.

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.

‘Workers need stronger legal protections and more power in the workplace to defend their living standards – not less.’

Attempts to weaken workers rights will be resisted, unions warn prime minister

It comes just two weeks after the TUC warned prime minister Liz Truss that she will face huge resistance if she attempts to weaken workers’ rights, such as the right of nurses and others to strike.

NHS nursing staff in the UK are set to be balloted from 6 October on potential strike action over the government’s pay increase offer of £1,400 – or 4% – in England and Wales and 5% in Scotland. Nurses in Northern Ireland are yet to be offered a pay increase but will still join the ballot.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been contacted for comment.


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