Government repeals ‘1970s-style’ restrictions on strikebreakers
Replacing striking staff with skilled agency workers will now be possible under the legal changes made by the UK Government.
Approved by both Commons and Lords, the cross-sector changes will help ensure “crucial public services and people’s lives remain uninterrupted” by the strikes.
The measure comes on the heels of a wave of industrial action that swept across all sectors in what many called the UK’s “summer of discontent.”
Just last month, 40,000 members of the union RMT working at Network Rail and 13 operators caused mayhem during a three-day walkout over job cuts and salaries.
“In light of militant trade union action threatening to bring vital public services to a standstill, we have moved at speed to repeal these burdensome, 1970s-style restrictions,” said business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps called the abrogation an “important milestone” even though it will not have an impact on next week’s national rail strike.
“For too long, unions have been able to hold the country to ransom with the threat of industrial action, but this vital reform means any future strikes will cause less disruption and allow hardworking people to continue with their day-to-day lives,” the transport secretary said.
As part of the amendment, the government has also increased the maximum amount courts can fine if a strike is deemed unlawful.
For the biggest unions, the amount has gone up from £250,000 to £1m.
The government’s plan was vastly criticised by both Labour and unions, who have long opposed the changes.
RMT’s general secretary Mick Lynch said this was “the latest step in a clampdown on democratic dissent,” while raising safety concerns.
“Instead of trying to reduce trade union rights which are already the worst in western Europe, the government should be unshackling Network Rail and the train operating companies so we can secure a negotiated settlement on the railways.”
Lynch’s words echoed those of Aslef’s boss Mick Whelan who last week said that ‘scab’ labour would destroy industrial relations.
In the railway sector, the measure’s impact might not be as substantial as one thinks.
According to Network Rail, the plan will have limited effects.
“The safety-critical nature of many of our roles, and the extensive training required, means agency workers couldn’t step in to replace workers such as signallers,” said a company spokesperson.
“But this legislation has the potential to help us offer an improved service to passengers on strike days, for example by covering workers in security operations.”