Unions slam proposal to let agency workers cover for striking staff

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Unions have reacted with anger to planned legal changes to allow agency workers to fill in for striking staff. They’ve branded the government as “desperate to distract from its numerous failings”.

The government devised the plan in response to rail strikes later in June because of disputes over pay, jobs, pensions and conditions.

The move would involve reversing a restriction which prevents employers from hiring agency workers to cover for striking staff. And it would apply to all sectors, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

‘Red meat to rebellious back benchers’

TUC deputy general secretary Paul Nowak said:

This Government is desperate to distract from its numerous failings by picking a fight with unions.

Allowing agency staff to replace striking workers would undermine the right to strike and be extremely reckless.

Bringing in less qualified and experienced staff to deliver important services would create genuine safety risks for the public and for the workforce.

Using agency workers to try and break strikes would put these workers in an appalling situation, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations.

Some may not realise until it is too late that they are being asked to break a strike.

Having repeatedly promised a high-wage economy, ministers now seem determined to reduce workers’ bargaining power and to make it harder for working people to win fair pay and conditions.

Let’s call this out for what it is. The PM is throwing red meat to his rebellious backbenchers to try and shore up his position.

Making industrial action illegal

Transport secretary Grant Shapps told the Sunday Telegraph that any legal intervention would not affect “this particular set of strikes” in June. But should the action continue, then “further measures certainly would come in during this particular dispute, if it can’t be resolved”.

Meanwhile the government does have the power to facilitate a resolution to the dispute, by not undermining the strikes and facilitating negotiations between transport companies and unions.

Writing in the Sun on Sunday 12 June, Shapps said the government could also ban workers from working overtime to make back pay lost during industrial action.

In May, he had told the Sunday Telegraph that ministers were looking at drawing up laws which would make industrial action illegal unless a certain number of staff are working.

‘The most restrictive anti-democratic trade union laws’

Meanwhile, Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Lynch said:

Grant Shapps needs to stop smearing the RMT and unshackle the rail operating companies so they can come to a negotiated settlement that can end this dispute.

Railway workers voted overwhelmingly for strike action in defence of their jobs and for a pay rise that deals with the rising cost of living.

It is insulting to them to suggest they do not understand the issues that affect their daily lives or cannot make a democratic decision by themselves.

We already have the most restrictive anti-democratic trade union laws in western Europe and if the Government attempts to reduce our rights further, the RMT along with the rest of the trade union movement will mount the fiercest resistance possible.


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