The Government has repealed restrictions that prevent temporary agency workers from filling in for employees who take part in industrial action. There has also been an increase in the maximum damages that courts can award against a trade union when strike action has been found to be unlawful.
Hiring agency workers to replace those on strike may assist some employers with their contingency planning. However, this may not be appropriate for certain skilled roles and may pose numerous risks such as the potential escalation of a dispute.
The new regulations revoke Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003. Regulation 7 previously prevented an employment business from supplying temporary workers to perform the duties normally performed by striking workers, or any other workers assigned to cover the duties of those individuals participating in strike action.
As a result of this revocation, employers are no longer restricted from engaging temporary workers when industrial action is taking place. The Business Secretary has, however, stated that companies will still be required to abide by broader Health and Safety rules that keep employees and the public safe. It will be the responsibility of individual businesses to hire temporary workers with the correct skillset and qualifications to meet the obligations of the role.
Several trade unions have written to the Business Secretary indicating their intention to seek a judicial review of the new regulations which they believe to be unlawful. Essentially, the argument made by the unions is that the new regulations are a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights and Government has failed to discharge its obligation to consult on this matter.
The changes in the law are in place now and apply across all sectors. Against the backdrop of increased participation in strike action, allowing the use of agency workers will provide greater flexibility to businesses but it will not be unfettered. Employers will have to ensure that temporary workers have the necessary skills and qualifications to meet Health and Safety requirements.
Feel free to contact our solicitors if you need legal advice about industrial action in your place of work.
John McConkey has over 8 years of experience in employment law. John also has extensive experience of employment disputes and has acted for many individuals and employers. John is a registered member of The Law Society and The Employment Lawyers Association (ELA UK). To contact John, visit the Contact Us page. For media enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org