As the ban on scab agencies sending staff to break strikes begins, the TUC has issued Sunak an ultimatum

Rishi Sunak looking worried, agencies TUC
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The short-lived move by the Tories which allowed agency workers to fill in for strikers came to an end on Thursday 10 August. The ban on this practice of agencies effectively scabbing had been lifted by Boris Johnson’s government. However, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has issued an ultimatum to Rishi Sunak’s government in case it was thinking of trying to reverse the ban again.

Kwarteng: allowing agencies to scab at will

In 1976, it was made unlawful for an employer to pay an agency to provide staff during a strike. However, Johnson’s business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng reversed the ban last July. As Sky News reported:

The change in law was introduced as a statutory instrument – meaning there was less scrutiny than on typical legislating…

It amended the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003.

Some unscrupulous bosses have made use of it – like those at homelessness charity St Mungo’s. As the Canary previously reported, striking workers there have been protesting outside the scab agencies involved.

However, the TUC and 11 trade unions weren’t having this law change. They took the government to court over the issue – and won.

A judge says ‘no’

At the time, the TUC argued that Kwarteng’s law change served to “undermine the fundamental right to strike“. It warned that it put the public in danger, and that it made disputes between workers and bosses even worse. Even the agency industry body, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, criticised the Tory minister’s plans, saying they were “unworkable”. Plus, a House of Lords committee that looked over the law said of it that:

Read on...

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the lack of robust evidence and the expected limited net benefit raise questions as to the practical effectiveness and benefit

Overall, the judge agreed Kwarteng’s actions were unlawful. This was because he’d breached the Employment Agencies Act 1973 by not consulting trade unions before making the change. As Sky News reported:

Mr Justice Linden was scathing in his written judgement.

He said the minister – who went on to become Liz Truss’s ill-fated chancellor – was “not sufficiently” interested to ask for analysis from civil servants so he could assess how the law change would actually be implemented.

Mr Justice Linden said the “decision was to proceed at exceptional speed” despite concerns from the civil service about the “effect on parliamentary scrutiny” and “without any further consultation at all”.

However, as the TUC noted in a press release:

The government recently decided it would not appeal the judgment, but hasn’t confirmed its longer-term plans for the law.

So, it’s calling on ministers to guarantee they won’t try to pull another fast one on workers, like Kwarteng tried (but failed) to.

Enough is enough, thank you

The TUC says the High Court overturning Kwarteng’s law was a “major blow” to the Tories’ “attempts to undermine the right to strike”. It has also said they are adopting the same “reckless approach” with the latest anti-strike legislation. It said in a press release that:

Like the agency worker regulations, the Strikes Act, which passed last month, has been widely criticised by employer groups, politicians and lots more. And ministers rushed the legislation through parliament.

The Act could lead to workers being forced to work even when they have democratically voted to strike, and workers facing the sack if they refuse to comply.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak added that:

Ministers know they broke the law when they tried to push through unworkable, shoddy legislation on agency workers covering for strikers. That’s why they have done the right thing and decided not to appeal against the High Court’s judgment. Bringing in agency staff to deliver important services in place of strikers risks endangering public safety, worsening disputes and poisoning industrial relations

The government railroaded through this law change despite widespread opposition from agency employers and unions. That’s why the Court were right to rule the change unlawful.

It’s time for clear commitments from ministers that they won’t overturn the ban on using agency workers during strikes.

And they should scrap the Strikes Act too – another piece of legislation that has been rushed through parliament, which will only sour industrial relations and drag out disputes.

Given that Sunak’s is one of the most toxic Tory governments in living memory (which is saying something) it’s unlikely to heed the TUC’s warning. However, trade unions will be ready to fight whatever this current shower of anti-worker, right-wing capitalist goons throw at them next.

Featured image via Sky News – YouTube

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  • Show Comments
    1. Can anyone else remember when dunces online were uncritically repeating the lies of the media manipulators and centrists that “”A strong Opposition is vital to Democracy” (- and that’s why Corbyn must go)” – well, it turned out they were right!

      Just not at all about Corbyn, and completely about the necessity for an OPPOSITION.

      I was pondering; – would it make any difference if instead of “Voting for the Lesser Evil”, voters “Voted against the Lesser Good”??

      Probably not.

      Interesting to see Judges once again Kaiboshing Executive Idiocy, it’s almost as though there were some folk in the PPE classes who weren’t just dreaming of destroying it all for short term personal gain.

      Little doubt Starver will be keeping note as to which to promptly fire upon being annointed. While the Tories will be cut/pasting propaganda lines from Israel’s far-right against “activist judges” in their next Murdochian ‘campaign’..

      Oh joy.

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