Proposed changes to rules during strikes

Throughout June 2022, individuals across the UK have faced significant disruption to daily activities due to the strike action of rail workers. Members of the RMT Union, including drivers, guards, catering staff, signallers and track maintenance workers voted to go on strike over pay, working conditions and planned job cuts, which effectively led to a shut down of the national railway network.  

Professionals from other industries, including nurses, doctors, barristers, cleaners, security workers and airline staff are also proposing to participate in strike action over similar disputes in the coming months. As a result, the government has stepped in to announce measures to reduce the impact of strike action on businesses and members of the public alike.  

Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 prohibits the hiring of a temporary worker to perform the duties normally performed by a striking worker. The government have proposed to overturn this, with legislation expected to come into effect in mid-July. The proposed changes will allow employers to bring in outside staff, should they choose to do so. This would in turn make it harder for unions to use strikes as a way to force employers’ hands in negotiations, since there would be minimised disruption to business operations.  

However, unions have criticised the move and raised concerns over the health and safety of those who must work with agency staff, and to the public as a whole, due to the potential that they will be less qualified and less experienced. It appears the government considered this in their proposed legislative changes since they highlighted in a statement that employers will be able to hire “trained” and “skilled” temporary workers. Despite this, it will remain an employer’s responsibility to ensure those who they bring into the business have the necessary skills and qualifications to fulfil the duties of their role safely and efficiently.  

To make this transition as smooth as possible, employers may want to consider building connections with reputable agencies to ensure the workers which are provided are able to meet the demands of the service. It may also be beneficial to liaise with learning and development experts to create a training programme which effectively prepares temporary staff to cover key roles. A full induction process may not be possible due time constraints, so a tailored orientation can be useful for all.  

Separately, the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, highlighted intentions to change the law to require a minimum number of workers to continue working during strike action in order for the strike to be lawful. If the union could not establish a minimum pool of workers to remain in place, the strike would not be allowed to go ahead. It’s hoped this would protect essential operations, including travel routes so people can get to work and freight shipments so fuel and food deliveries can be made. Whilst this is not a new commitment, having previously been made in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, it has now come back on the agenda. However, there is no indication of when the proposed new law will be consulted on or if it will definitely come into effect.   

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