High Court refuses Warrington Borough Council injunction to stop pay strike action

Warrington Borough CouncilA High Court judge has dismissed Warrington Borough Council’s application for an injunction to prevent trade union Unite calling on its members at one of the council’s waste depots to strike over pay.

The members employed by the council have been on strike since 3 October following the national pay offer of a flat rate increase of £1,925, which they stated is below the rate of inflation.

On 30 January 2023, the National Joint Council for Local Government Services (NJC) unions, Unison, GMB and Unite, submitted a pay claim to the National Employers for a pay increase of Retail Prices Index (RPI) plus 2%, as well as improvements to working conditions. A month later, the National Employers offered a consolidated payment of £1,925 per employee, or a 3.88% increase for higher earners.

In June, Unite wrote to local authorities, including Warrington Borough Council, stating it would ballot its members for industrial action. Three months later, Unite notified the council of its intention to call on its members at the Woolston depot to strike from 3 to 16 October.

Negotiations took place in October and November, with no agreement being reached. Unite then informed the council of further strike action from 5 to 23 December. The council sought an injunction on 22 November, claiming that the strike focused on issues at the Woolston Depot that were not part of the national NJC pay claim nor the subject of a ballot, making the action unlawful.

In her judgement, Justice Eady said: “Just because a particular matter raised in negotiations had not been listed in the original NJC claim does not mean that it was not being raised as part of an attempt to resolve the dispute relating to that claim. Once strike action has commenced, resolution of the trade dispute for which it has been called will generally necessitate resolving any issues that might relate to the taking of that action ([such as] lost pay, pension or holiday entitlement; protection of agency workers who refused to cross the picket line [and so on]).

“I do not consider that raising the question of holiday accrual for those involved in the strike action or the issues relating to agency workers who did not cross the picket line at the depot demonstrates that the defendant was in some way pursuing a different dispute. Weighing the balance of convenience in the light of all these factors, I do not find that this is such an exceptional case as to warrant the grant of an injunction.”

Rachel Halliday, a partner and member of the Trade Union Law Group at Thompsons Solicitors, which acted for Unite, added: “The judge rightly recognised the industrial reality that those involved in negotiations to resolve a trade dispute may well need to look for new and creative solutions to move beyond an impasse. This is a helpful judgment for trade unions in that it makes it clear that the requirement contained in the Trade Union Act 2016 to provide a summary of the trade dispute in the ballot paper means a summary and not a list of every conceivable issue which might arise during the course of negotiations.”