Knowledge is Power

Agencies and Unions Beg Government to Abandon Plans Which “Risk Public Safety”

REC and TUC reps say that government plans won’t solve problems

The government recently announced plans to abandon legislation which prevents agencies from supplying temporary workers to cover staff shortages brought on by industrial action. Following the recent rail strikes, and with more industrial action on the horizon in several other crucial sectors including teaching, nursing and postal workers, the government has pledged to bring about changes which will ease the impact of strikes on society. Read on to find out more.

Three days of rail strikes during which only 1 in 20 trains ran meant that the UK was largely at a standstill. The strike followed a row over pay, conditions, and proposed job cuts, with workers arguing that the offered 3% pay increase comes in far below the rate of inflation (currently standing at 9%). And as we see the cost of living continue to soar, the likelihood of strikes from other industries increases, with some sectors planning action later in the year.

What legislation is the government planning on changing?

Current legislation prevents agencies from providing temporary workers to fill staff shortages during times of industrial action. But ministers have argued that this can have a “disproportionate impact” and on 23rd June, released a statement which changes the law.

The statement includes reference to “burdensome legal restrictions” and says that businesses will now have “the freedom to tap into the services of employment businesses who can provide skilled, temporary agency staff at short notice to temporarily cover essential roles for the duration of the strike.”

This isn’t the first time this suggestion has been made; the government sought views on removing the ban back in 2015 but decided not to go ahead following the period of consultation.

How has the industry responded?

The agency sector and union representatives have blasted this decision, stating that it is counter productive and puts workers at risk.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) released a joint statement urging the government to abandon the plan, saying the two organisations “oppose it in the strongest possible terms.”

The statement declares that placing agency workers in roles affected by strikes will put both temporary and company employees at risk and points out that many striking roles will be skilled positions which require training. They also mention that in this candidate led market, agency workers are unlikely to choose to put themselves in difficult positions.

“Agency staff are very unlikely to choose a role that requires them to cross a picket line versus one that doesn’t. Additionally, many roles that may be on strike require technical skills or training. Training agency workers to do these jobs would be expensive and time-consuming,” the statement says.

What do other representatives have to say?

Deputy leader for Labour, Angela Rayner, likened the situation to the P&O scandal, where the channel crossing giant sacked nearly eight hundred staff without notice and replaced them with cheaper agency workers. A situation which the government strongly opposed. “This is a recipe for disaster,” she said. “Not just undermining pay and working conditions but risking public safety and ripping up ministers’ own words.”

Several industry reps have also weighed in to agree that the plans do not provide a solution to the problem. “In a very skills-short market, skilled workers, such as train drivers, are unlikely to be ‘on the bench’ and readily available,” says Tania Bowers, global public policy director at the Association of Professional Staffing Companies.

What else will change?

The government statement also announced that the damages cap that courts can award when strike action is found to be unlawful is going up from £250,000 to £1m for the biggest unions. The changes are subject to parliament approval but will come into effect in England, Scotland, and Wales “over the coming weeks.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps explained “Reforms such as this legislation are vital and will ensure any future strikes will cause even less disruption and allow adaptable, flexible, fully skilled staff to continue working throughout.”

We at Ship Shape will continue to monitor the situation and will keep our clients and candidates informed. In the meantime, if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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