As the UK government faces the prospect of a summer of strikes, it has reintroduced plans to change the law so agency workers can be hired to replace striking workers. While this will not happen in time to prevent the impact of current transport worker strikes, the BBC has reported it could be achieved by mid-July via a reform to secondary legislation. No official statement has been made, but the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has said this change “is on its way”.
This legislation is not a new idea, however. The government has tried – and failed – to introduce it before and it remains unlikely to work or to comply with international law.
While the policy was most recently announced by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, it echoes proposals made by David Cameron’s Conservative government in 2015. That year’s Conservative manifesto pledged to “repeal nonsensical restrictions banning employers from hiring agency staff to provide essential cover during strikes”.
This was swiftly translated into a proposal for legislative reform. Draft regulations to allow employers to hire agency workers to replace striking workers were set out in a consultation paper that July, alongside the controversial 2015 Trade Union Bill.