They've lost three high-profile cases in the High Court, Supreme Court and Court of Appeal in the last fortnight alone.
The government has suffered three humiliating legal defeats to the unions in the past fortnight alone – throwing their legitimacy yet further into question.
On Friday the High Court ruled that government cuts to civil service redundancy pay were illegal because unions had been excluded from the negotiations that brought in the cuts.
The court further ruled the government could not appeal the decision and must pay the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union’s court fees.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said of Friday’s High Court ruling: “This is a great win for us and all civil servants, and another humiliating defeat for the government that treated its workforce with contempt by excluding us from talks.
“In trying to fix the terms of the negotiations the government only succeeded in showing itself to be weak, vulnerable and afraid of serious discussion. The judgement proves how important it is to belong to a trade union that is prepared to fight back.”
The Unison victory over tribunal fees two weeks ago was a groundbreaking step in unions and employees challenging the legal and constitutional basis of the government’s actions.
“The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.”
As Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, put it.
The other Unison victory saw the Court of Appeal ruling that employers must consult unions more often over working conditions, such as holiday pay and working hours.
“The message to bosses is they will have to treat their staff more fairly over pay and working conditions. If they fail to consult unions then they will be acting unlawfully and could be taken to court.”
As employment law expert Darren Newman wrote on Left Foot Forward two weeks ago, these victories have ramifications beyond employment law.
“A positive result for Unison will open a new chapter in the Court’s willingness to limit the powers of the executive”, Newman wrote the day before the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“[A victory] would assert the sovereignty of Parliament as expressed in Acts of Parliament as against the power of ministers to shape the law.”
The courts have dished out not one but three victories for the unions in the past two weeks, throwing into question the constitutional and legal basis of the government’s actions. The government is on the back foot, and it’s delicious to watch.
Oscar Webb is a reporter for Left Foot Forward. He tweets here.
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