Law banning agency workers from covering during strikes is repealed
Prior to that it was a criminal offence for agencies to supply temporary workers to cover for workers taking part in a strike or industrial action (under Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003 (“Reg 7”)).
On the face of it, employers who face industrial action may see this as a helpful development. But the impact of hiring agency workers on trade union relations and practical challenges, such as the shortage of suitable agency staff (including their potential reluctance to cross the picket line and the difficulty of finding suitably trained staff on short notice), mean it is unlikely to be a complete solution for employers.
A brief history of Reg 7
Reg 7 made it a criminal offence for agencies to knowingly (including having reasonable grounds for knowingly) providing temporary workers to an employer to perform the duties of workers taking part in an official strike or in other official industrial action. Reg 7 did not restrict employers from directly employing a replacement.
Of course these measures were not enough to repair trade unions relations and only a few years later came widespread strikes known infamously as the Winter of Discontent.
Why has the Government repealed Reg 7?
This is not the first time that calls have been made for Reg 7 to be repealed. The Conservatives launched a consultation on the matter in July 2015. No response to the consultation was ever published at the time, but the Government has now disclosed some information about the responses in the Explanatory Note to the Amendment Regulations. As shown in figure 1 below, the majority of those who responded were of the view that repealing Reg 7 would have a negative effect.
Nonetheless, the recent railway strike prompted the Government to revisit this matter. The Government has justified the repeal of Reg 7 as necessary to tackle the “unreasonable” and “disproportionate” impact of the strikes for members of the public and the “unreasonable costs to businesses at a time when everyone is struggling with the rising cost of living and doing business”.
Challenges to the repeal of Reg 7
As the strikes continue and companies seek to rely on agency workers to plug staffing gaps, we will have to wait and see how public and stakeholder opinion on the repeal of Reg 7 develops. In any case, from what we have seen in the Tory leadership contest, further reforms to trade union laws cannot be ruled out so this could just be the start.
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