Plan to use agency workers as strike breakers comes under fire

Law change will worsen disputes and ‘poison’ industrial relations, warns TUC

<p>An RMT Union Steward at Nottingham station (Simon Marper/PA)</p>

An RMT Union Steward at Nottingham station (Simon Marper/PA)

Government plans to change the law to allow firms to hire agency workers to replace striking staff have today come under fire – including from representatives of recruitment agencies.

With ministers braced for a “summer of discontent” as groups including nurses, teachers and mail workers mull industrial action, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is tabling legislation which will remove a 1973 law banning the use of agency workers as strike-breakers. Plans to put it before parliament today foundered after the House rose earlier than expected, and Mr Kwarteng will have to wait for Monday to start the process, which requires a vote by MPs.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said that change would mean future strikes would cause less disruption by allowing “flexible, fully skilled staff to continue working throughout”.

Speaking on the second day of strike action by rail workers in the RMT union, Mr Shapps said: “Despite the efforts of militant union leaders, they cannot bring our country to a standstill.”

However, government sources acknowledged that the reform would not necessarily prevent disruption in future rail strikes, as employers were unlikely to be able to find temporary workers to fill skilled posts like signalman.

And the chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, Neil Carberry, said agency workers were unlikely to want to cross picket lines and place themselves at the centre of controversial disputes.

Changing the law to allow firms to hire agency workers to replace staff on strike during industrial disputes will not work, the head of the UK’s recruitment body has

“It is not something agencies want, and will not achieve the goals the Government claims,” he said.

“Inserting agency workers into strikes will only lengthen disputes. It will also not provide the workers that Government wants, and it puts agencies and agency workers in a very difficult position, with potential health and safety and reputational risks to consider.

“Agency workers are in high demand, and most will not choose a job that forces them to cross a picket line over another where they do not have to.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that agency workers would be placed in an “appalling and impossible” position if asked to act as strike-breakers.

The union organisation has warned that the legislation could breach an International Labour Organisation convention to which the UK is a signatory.

Ms O’Grady accused the government of “chasing headlines, rather than acting in the national interest” in the rail dispute. :

“The government should be getting people around the table to find a fair resolution to this rail dispute,” she said.

“But ministers are more interested in cynically picking a fight with unions than reaching a negotiated settlement.

“Having slammed P&O for replacing experienced workers with agency staff, Grant Shapps is using the same playbook.

“These plans are a deliberate attempt to undermine the right to strike and to reduce workers’ bargaining power.

“Bringing in less qualified agency staff to deliver important services will endanger public safety, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations.”

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