The government could repeal a ban on the use of agency workers to replace striking staff members when rail companies go on strike later this month.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, transport secretary Grant Shapps said a potential change in legislation would allow companies to hire temporary workers to cover some roles and reduce disruption.
Last week rail union RMT confirmed that it would stage a national strike on 21, 23 and 25 June, impacting commuters and a number of key events such as Glastonbury. More than 40,000 workers are set to strike over pay and changes to terms and conditions.
However, unions and opposition politicians have called the move dangerous should it go ahead.
TUC deputy general secretary Paul Nowak said that allowing agency workers to replace striking employees would 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,” he said.
“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.”
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told the BBC this weekend that the move would make it “less safe to travel” and accused ministers of “acting like arsonists rather than firefighters”.
Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, also spoke out against the proposals.
In a tweet, he said: “Repealing the ban on agency workers replacing those on strike is the wrong policy – it puts agency workers and agencies in an invidious position and moves the focus away from resolving the dispute. REC will oppose any moves in this direction.”
Repealing the ban on agency workers replacing those on strike is the wrong policy – it puts agency workers and agencies in an invidious position, and moves the focus away from resolving the dispute. @RECPress will oppose any moves in this direction.
— Neil Carberry (@RECNeil) June 12, 2022
Under Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003, it is not permitted to provide a temporary worker to perform the duties normally performed by a worker who is taking part in a strike.
Shapps added that “the country must not continue to be held to ransom” and that any changes involving secondary legislation could be signed off by ministers “very fast”.
In a separate article for the Sun on Sunday, the transport secretary wrote that “Rail managers and ministers are determined to ensure strikers cannot milk the system to maintain their income while inflicting misery on the public.”
In May, the government threatened to make strike action illegal if a minimum number of train staff did not work during a walk out.
The Department for Transport is yet to confirm if any legislative changes will be made, with Shapps simply saying: “I’ll be saying more about this. But we will be looking at the full suite of modernisation that’s required.”