Union's fury over Govt plans to hire agency staff during strikes to curb travel chaos

12 June 2022, 16:53

Union’s fury after Govt announce plans to hire agency staff during strikes
Union’s fury after Govt announce plans to hire agency staff during strikes. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

The Government have been accused of "insulting" unions after they unveiled plans to allow agency workers to fill in for striking staff.

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Union representative said the planned legal changes are not aimed at helping staff but prove the Government are "desperate to distract from its numerous failings".

The plan emerged in response to rail strikes later this month which will cripple train services because of disputes over pay, jobs, pensions and conditions.

The move would involve reversing a restriction preventing employers from hiring agency workers to cover for striking staff and would apply to all sectors, according to The Sunday Telegraph.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the newspaper 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".

"I'll be saying more about this. But we will be looking at the full suite of modernisation that's required," he said.

Read more: Summer plans scuppered? Gigs, festivals, sport and GCSEs hit in biggest rail strike since '89

Nick Ferrari asks RMT chief about rail workers' pay

Plans to make the legal adjustment are reportedly being drawn up by officials in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told LBC that "no decision has been made yet" on whether to bring in agency workers, and claimed rail sector staff were "well-rewarded", with a median salary of £46,000 a year compared to the national average of £26,000.

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."

Read more: 'This is the price of failure': Nick Ferrari slams aviation boss salaries

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."

Writing in The Sun on Sunday, Mr Shapps said workers could also be banned from working overtime to make back pay lost during industrial action.

Read more: The UK travel chaos could become a full-blown national crisis, says Andrew Marr

Strikes mustn't interrupt children getting to exams, minister urges

It comes after he told The Sunday Telegraph in May that ministers were looking at drawing up laws which would make industrial action illegal unless a certain number of staff are working.

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary said: "If the Government continue to fly this 'false flag', then the trade union movement must be ready to respond.

"Workers have had enough of being told by the rich and powerful to meekly accept what they are given. It is profiteering corporations, not ordinary workers who are driving the latest surge In inflation and making fools of us all.

"Rather than attack the rights of workers, it is high time that politicians of all parties argued for a cap on profits not pay.

"Why is it OK for faceless corporations to rip off the public through price gouging but not for workers to take action to defend their living standards?

"With British workers already subject to the most restrictive labour laws in Europe, as a nation we need to think again about in whose interests we want our economy to run."

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: "The Government's focus should be on a plan to help the country through the cost-of-living crisis, not engineering a distracting spat with unions.

"Using agency workers isn't safe and only serves to sour relations between employers and their employees."

It comes as long-awaited trips to gigs, festivals and sport are under threat in the face of the biggest public transport strike in decades.

Rail workers announced a three day walk out of 50,000 staff ahead of the UK's most anticipated gigs and festivals and alongside another Tube strike.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 13 train operators will walk out on June 21, 23 and 25 in what the union says will be the biggest strike on the railways since 1989.

The dates clash with the start of the Glastonbury music festival which begins on Wednesday June 22.

Elton John and the Rolling Stones are due to play in London's Hyde Park on June 24 and June 25, respectively.

England will take on New Zealand in a cricket test match in Leeds between June 23 and 27, and the British Athletic Championships will be held in Manchester between June 24 and 26.

The final GCSE exams will also take place up to June 28.There will also be a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London on June 24 and 25 and it is Armed Forces Day on June 25.