Government proposes to repeal legislation which bans agency workers from stepping in during strikes

14th June 2022 Employment

In light of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union (the ‘RMT Union’) proposing to strike on 21, 23 and 25 June 2022 as a result of disagreements over salary and redundancies, the Government is proposing to repeal Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 (the ‘Conduct Regulations’). Regulation 7 of the Conduct Regulations currently prohibits employers from using agency workers to cover an employee who is taking part in a strike or industrial action.

Although the Government’s intervention would not affect the strikes that have been prepared to occur in Britain later this month (which would be Britain’s biggest strike action this century and would “shut down the system” according to the RMT Union), Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says that the legal change can be made “very fast” in order to minimise disruption arising from future action in rail or other sectors.

The Government’s proposals perhaps do not come as a surprise given that the policy change was put forward in the Conservative party’s manifesto in 2015 which had stated that they “repeal nonsensical restrictions banning employers from hiring agency staff to provide essential cover during strikes.” However, the Government’s response to the strike action has been faced with criticism, particularly from Unions and opposing politicians such as Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves who accused ministers of “sowing chaos and … division”, insisting that the proposals would make it “less safe to travel”.

Neil Carberry, who is the chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (the ‘REC’), has also spoke out against the proposals, asserting: “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.”

The Department for Transport have not yet confirmed whether any legislative changes will in fact be made, with Shapps advising that “[they] will be looking at the full suite of modernisation that’s required.”

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Shelby Munn is a Trainee Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Trainee Solicitors department

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