The TUC and REC have called on the government to abandon its “unworkable” plan to lift the ban on agency workers filling in during strikes.

The TUC has called on the Westminster government to adopt a positive role in the rail dispute instead of “inflaming tensions” and threatening to revoke workers’ legal rights.

According to TUC, these cuts would hit thousands of safety-critical jobs and frontline workers.

Also responding to reports that the Government plans to repeal a legal ban on agency staff filling in for workers on strike, the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) has warned that such a move would breach international labour standards.

The TUC is calling on the government to stop inflaming the dispute by refusing to aid negotiations, insisting on imposing cuts, and threatening to revoke workers’ legal rights.

 

What should the government do about rail funding?

The TUC report on the future of rail published last month in May 2022 entitled The future of rain funding in the UK recommends:

  • Ministers should withdraw requirements for Network Rail to make cuts and provide sufficient funding to maintain safety, improve quality, and expand rail services.
  • Network Rail should bring all outsourced services back in-house – directly employing workers to undertake vital renewals (such as replacing end of life tracks) could save more than £115m each year.
  • Ministers should integrate all train services under a single public-owned operator, uniting tracks, rolling stock and train services, and recognising that the railways are an essential public service to be run for public benefit with profits reinvested in the service.

 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: 

“Nobody takes strike action lightly. But rail staff have been left with no other option.

“Many rail staff who will be hit hardest – such as caterers and cleaners – are on low and average earnings. It’s insulting to ask them to take yet another real-terms pay cut when rail companies took £500 million in profits during the pandemic.

“If these cuts go ahead thousands of safety-critical and frontline jobs will be lost, with train services at risk too. We need a better vison for the future of rail than commuters packed on unsafe trains like sardines.”

 

Legislative change is needed 

According to Tania Bowers, Global Public Policy Director at APSCo, failure to follow the appropriate routes to drive legislative changes such as this would be detrimental to compliant practices in the employment sector:

“We would not expect the Government to go ahead with this plan for a change in the agency worker legislation without consultation with the recruitment sector including ourselves. This legislative move would be out of line with most developed nations and in breach of international labour standards. It’s also not a short-term solution as it requires primary legislation change.

“This government was elected on a manifesto of improving worker rights via implementation of the recommendations of 2017’s Taylor Review, currently being considered by the Prime Minister’s Future of Work review. We are therefore surprised by the unexpected move to amend the agency legislation, which will only restrict the impact of workers exercising their rights to strike.”

 

Paul Nowak, TUC deputy general secretary, said:

“Just a few months ago Grant Shapps slammed P&O for replacing experienced workers with agency staff. But now he’s proposing to do the same on railways.

“Allowing agency staff to replace striking workers would undermine the right to strike and create genuine safety risks for the public and for the workforce.

“It would put these workers in an appalling situation, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations.

“Having repeatedly promised a high-wage economy, ministers now seem determined to reduce workers’ bargaining power and to make it harder for working people to win fair pay and conditions.

“This government has the power to play an active role in helping to end disputes. But it would rather escalate tensions and pick a fight with unions.”

Editor at HRreview

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.