Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said that the government is considering legal changes to allow agency workers to provide cover for striking staff. The announcement is partly in response to planned rail strikes later this month, and also the likelihood of strikes in other sectors with largescale industrial action likely nationwide this summer.
The plan would require repealing Regulation 7 of the Conduct Regulations which prohibits employment businesses from providing agency workers to cover the duties normally performed by an employee of an organisation who is taking part in a strike or other industrial action.
The transport secretary said any change could involve secondary legislation, which can be signed off by ministers “very fast”. Even so, the suggested changes won’t happen for the first wave of strikes in just over a week, but if there are more, Grant Shapps hopes agency workers can cover the gaps.
Whilst the plan is intended to minimise the impact of industrial action it controversially erodes worker rights at a time when many feel they are not being listened to. In addition, the practical reality of supplying temporary staff to fill the gaps would put recruitment agencies and their workers in a difficult position. And of course there is no guarantee that sufficient numbers of appropriately skilled workers would be available to fill those gaps – we already have many employers struggling to recruit as it is.
As a slight aside, from our perspective it is frustrating that the government will consider making fast-track legislative changes to deal with an issue in isolation, yet remains unable to bring in much-needed legislation that has already been promised! We have been told that the long-awaited Employment Bill is delayed due to a lack of legislative time, however are we simply being fobbed off?
Multiple industries have been hit with what union leaders say is a “perfect storm” of high inflation, a restricted labour market and the cost-of-living crisis. Discontent has left union leaders representing train drivers, airport workers, bus drivers, bin collectors, nurses, postal workers, civil servants and teachers among those who are threatening action.