From education to employment

Tory MPs back “shameless attack” on working people

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady
  • Union body slams decision to lift the ban on agency workers during industrial action as “a threat to public safety”
  • Ministers are weakening workers’ ability to bargain for higher wages across the economy, says TUC

Commenting on Conservative MPs voting to back new laws to lift the ban on the use of agency workers during strikes, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Conservative MPs have just backed a shameless attack on working people.

“These pernicious new laws threaten public safety, and make it harder for workers to defend their jobs, pay and conditions.

“The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty. The government is attacking it in broad daylight by allowing agency workers to be used as strike breakers across the economy.

“Hiring agency workers to try to break strikes would put these workers in an appalling position, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations.

“And public safety could be put at risk by bringing in agency staff who haven’t been fully trained to deliver specific roles.

“Limiting workers’ ability to bargain for higher wages is the cowardly and desperate last act of a government in chaos – especially while millions struggle to make ends meet.

“Instead of picking a fight to distract from their many failings, ministers should be doing all they can to de-escalate industrial disputes.”

The TUC and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which represents suppliers of agency workers, issued a joint statement calling on the government to abandon its plan to lift the ban on agency workers filling in during strikes. 

Rushing through legislation

The TUC has accused the government of rushing through the new laws and neglecting its obligations around new legislation. 

The union body says there has been no consultation with unions, which the government is obliged to take under the Employment Agencies Act 1973. 

The government is relying on a seven-year old consultation, from when these plans were first mooted. The TUC points out the political and economic backdrop is now very different.

The TUC adds that these changes are being pursued in contravention of the convention that a departing prime minister does not seek to push through controversial legislation as they prepare to leave office.

On Wednesday 6 July, the prime minister’s office issued a statement which said “his priority would now be to continue delivering on manifesto pledges”, making clear that “the government would not seek to implement new policies” focusing instead on “delivering the agenda on which the government was elected”.

This union body says this Statutory Instrument introduces significant new policy that will have considerable impact. This was not included in the Conservative Party manifesto.

The TUC has also warned that the government could be in breach of international law (Freedom of association: ILO Convention 87).

Separate government proposals would also allow huge damages of up to £1 million to be claimed from unions if strike action falls foul of the UK’s “onerous and complex” industrial action laws.

The TUC says this will likely lead to vexatious cases being pursued by rogue employers.

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