Government action on agency workers condemned by unions

The Government’s plans to allow agency workers to fill the jobs of striking workers has been criticised by the TUC who say they could breach international law.


The Government has passed legislation to enable businesses to supply skilled agency workers to plug staffing gaps during industrial action, which the TUC has called “a shameless attack on working people”.

The Government says strike action, such as the recent rail strike, can cause severe disruption to the UK economy and society. The change in the law removes restrictions of the use of agency workers to fill gaps during strike action.

It says removing restrictions – a move which has also been opposed by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation – will give employers more flexibility, but businesses will still need to comply with broader health and safety rules that keep both employees and the public safe, for instance, ensuring agency workers have the necessary skills and/or qualifications.

Strike action is threatened in the next months by a range of public sector workers, from teachers, train drivers and doctors to the Royal Mail and council workers as workers demand that their wages rise more in line with inflation. Many have faced wage freezes over recent years, meaning that, even before the current cost of living crisis, their earnings have effectively gone down.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These pernicious new laws threaten public safety, and make it harder for workers to defend their jobs, pay and conditions.

“The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty. The government is attacking it in broad daylight by allowing agency workers to be used as strike breakers across the economy.

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

“And public safety could be put at risk by bringing in agency staff who haven’t been fully trained to deliver specific roles.

“Limiting workers’ ability to bargain for higher wages is the cowardly and desperate last act of a government in chaos – especially while millions struggle to make ends meet. Instead of picking a fight to distract from their many failings, ministers should be doing all they can to de-escalate industrial disputes.”

The TUC says the legislation has been introduced without any consultation with unions, which the government is obliged to take under the Employment Agencies Act 1973, and was not in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. It adds that the government is relying on a seven-year old consultation, from when these plans were first mooted. The TUC says the political and economic backdrop is now very different and that the law could breach international law.


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