Organisations representing the agency sector and unions have shared their disapproval over government plans to end a ban on using temporary staff to break strikes.
The Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) and Trades Union Congress warned that lifting the ban would only “prolong the conflict” between employers and staff taking industrial action.
In a joint statement, the two organisations said the proposal was not practical because the existing ban on the use of agency staff was “a key element of a sustainable national employment relations framework”.
Neil Carberry, chief executive of the REC, also said agencies were in favour of maintaining the ban, warning that, without it, staffing firms could find themselves pressured by clients into supplying staff to work in hostile and potentially dangerous situations.
“Agency staff have a choice of roles and are highly unlikely to choose to cross picket lines,” he said, adding that inserting a different firm’s workers into the middle of a dispute would only ever inflame tensions.
Yesterday (21 June) saw the first of three days of train strikes planned by the RMT, affecting services across the country. The London Underground was also affected by a separate strike yesterday, while a number of employees in other sectors, including teachers, lawyers and postal workers, have also warned of potential industrial action in the coming months.
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In response, the government said it would look to remove legislation that currently prevents employers from using agency staff to carry out the roles of striking workers.
Section 7 of the 2003 Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations prevents employment businesses from supplying or introducing an agency worker to an employer to perform the duties of a striking worker.
It also prevents them from providing agency staff to perform the roles of a non-striking worker who has been reassigned to cover for a striking worker.
However, Samantha Dickinson, equality and diversity partner at Mayo Wynne Baxter, warned that while the proposed rule change would allow employers to be “more agile” when facing industrial action, it would also “inevitably further erode the rights of workers and the power of their trade unions”.
“This threat to remove the current prohibition on engaging agency staff to carry out the work of striking employees is astonishing, bearing in mind it wasn’t that long ago that the government voiced outrage when P&O Ferries hired in agency staff to replace their workforce,” she said.
Tania Bowers, global public policy director at the Association of Professional Staffing Companies, also questioned the practicality of such a rule change. “In a very skills-short market, skilled workers, such as train drivers, are unlikely to be ‘on the bench’ and readily available,” she said.
Expressing surprise at the government announcement, Bowers said no changes should be made without properly consulting the recruitment sector.