TUC slams “reckless” decision to lift the ban on agency workers during industrial action as “a threat to public safety”
Unions, industry bodies and Lords committee all criticise plans
Ministers are weakening workers’ ability to bargain for higher wages across the economy, says TUC
The TUC has today (Monday) slammed new legislation which will lift the ban on agency workers being used to fill in for workers on strike as “a recipe for disaster” and a “threat to public safety”.
The statutory instrument was voted through by the House of Lords tonight, alongside reforms which will allow huge damages of up to £1 million to be claimed from unions if strike action falls foul of the UK’s “onerous and complex” industrial action laws.
The agency worker legislation has been criticised by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in recent days.
The Lords committee said: “the lack of robust evidence and the expected limited net benefit raise questions as to the practical effectiveness and benefit of the proposed repeal of regulation 7.”
The CEO of Network Rail Tim Shoveller also said that many of the safety critical roles did not have an agency market, and conceded the proposals would have little effect.
This comes after the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), which represents suppliers of agency workers, described the proposals as “unworkable”.
Commenting on the House of Lords voting through the statutory instrument which lifts the ban on agency workers being used to fill in for striking workers, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“This is a recipe for disaster. Unions and industry bodies have both warned ministers against these reckless plans.
“Using agency workers to try and break strikes would put these workers in an appalling position, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations.
“Make no mistake. This government wants to undermine the fundamental right to strike by allowing agency workers to be used as strike breakers across the economy.
"And these cynical and ideological laws are a threat to public safety too.
“Bringing in agency staff who haven’t been fully trained to deliver specific roles could put themselves and members of the public at risk.
“At a time when millions are struggling to make ends meet, ministers are using precious parliamentary time to attack workers' ability to bargain for higher wages.
“This is a government in turmoil, which is spoiling for fight. Ministers should help to de-escalate industrial disputes – not inflaming them."
On the prospect of huge damages of up to £1 million being claimed from unions if strike action falls foul of industrial action laws, Frances added:
“These plans are based on politics rather than the real problems working people face. They will lead to vexatious cases being pursued by rogue employers against unions.
“Ministers should be working with unions to improve working lives – not looking for new ways to undermine us.”
Rushing through legislation
The TUC accused the government of rushing through the new laws and neglecting its obligations around new legislation.
The union body says there was no consultation with unions, which the government is obliged to take under the Employment Agencies Act 1973.
The government instead relied on a seven-year-old consultation from when these plans were first mooted. The TUC points out the political and economic backdrop is now very different.
The TUC adds that these changes have been rushed through in breach of the convention that a departing prime minister does not seek to push through controversial legislation as they prepare to leave office.
On Wednesday 6 July, the prime minister’s office issued a statement following his decision to step down which said: “his priority would now be to continue delivering on manifesto pledges”, making clear that “the government would not seek to implement new policies” focusing instead on “delivering the agenda on which the government was elected”.
This union body says this Statutory Instrument introduces significant new policy that will have considerable impact. This was not included in the Conservative Party manifesto.
The TUC has also warned that the government could be in breach of international law (Freedom of association: ILO Convention 87).
- TUC and REC urge government to abandon plan to allow agency staff to replace striking workers https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/tuc-and-rec-urge-government-abandon-plan-allow-agency-staff-replace-striking-workers
- MPs must vote down “pernicious” anti-union laws which threaten public safety https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/mps-must-vote-down-pernicious-anti-union-laws-which-threaten-public-safety
- About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.
TUC press office
020 7467 1248
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