23 June 2022
The United Kingdom is experiencing its second day of rail dispute within a week. The government has today revealed plans to allow businesses to hire skilled agency workers to fill staff gaps during industrial action.
Trade union laws currently prohibit firms from providing temporary agency workers to employees who are on strike.
Today’s proposed change to the law will allow firms to tap into the services of employment agencies who are able to provide skill temporary staff to cover essential roles during a strike. Any temporary replacement staff must have the skills necessary to comply with wider health and safety regulations.
Commenting on the proposed changes, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said, “Repealing these 1970s-era restrictions will give businesses freedom to access fully skilled staff at speed, all while allowing people to get on with their lives uninterrupted to help keep the economy ticking”.
The Labour party and the unions were furious at the proposals.
Frances O’Grady the General Secretary of the TUC has labeled the proposals as unworkable and accused the government of using the same ‘playbook’ as that used recently by the shipping company, P&O. The TUC has suggested that the plans are a ‘deliberate attempt’ to undermine the right to strike and to reduce workers’ bargaining power.
Commenting, Frances O’Grady said, “Bringing in less qualified agency staff to deliver important services will endanger public safety, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations”.
Angela Rayner, the Labour Party’s deputy leader, agreed with her words. Ms Rayner, herself a former Union organizer wrote on Twitter, “Not just undermining pay, rights and conditions, but risking public safety and ripping up minister’s own words’.
Rayner added, “The idea this could solve the travel chaos they have crated is just more Tory fantasy in place of real solutions”.
The government’s proposed law change is being made through a statutory instrument allowing it to come into force in the coming weeks, far faster than would be the case with primary legislation.
The change could allow skilled temporary workers to dispatch trains in the event of future rail disputes. Managers who are currently performing this role will be able to take on other safety roles, such as guards.
The current rail dispute is still a contentious one. Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme this morning, Eddie Demsey, the Deputy General Secretary of the RMT union reiterated the unions’ demand for no compulsory redundancies and a far greater payrise than that on offer. Demsey said, “We are not going to accept the line that it is unaffordable for us to have a pay rise, whilst so much money is being taken out of our industry in the form of profits”.
Meanwhile speaking on the same prorgramme, the Network Rail negotiator, Tim Shoveller, stated that increasing the industry’s pay offer from 3% to 7.1% would cost £65 million per year and that this came up against affordability constraints.
The government has announced plans to increase the maximum damages a court can award to a union when it finds strike action to be illegal. The limits have been unchanged since 1982, but will now rise from £250,000 to £1 million.