Conservatives set to overturn ban on use of agency workers during strikes despite “humiliating” High Court defeat

Government’s own impact assessment warns strike-breaking agency worker laws will poison industrial relations and prolong strikes

16 Nov 2023| News

Ministers will try again to overturn the ban on the use of agency workers during strikes, as the government launches a consultation on the law change.

In June the government was defeated in the High Court after it rushed through new laws that allowed agencies to supply employers with workers to fill in for those on strike.

The presiding judge criticised ministers for acting in a way that was “unfair, unlawful and irrational” and reinstated the ban on agency staff being used to break strikes.

But despite this rebuke – and strong opposition from unions and employers – ministers are resurrecting the plans with a new consultation.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), which represents suppliers of agency workers, called the announcement of the consultation “a disappointment, given the scale of opposition from employers and workers to the previous proposal”.

The body also warned the change could see inflamed tensions and longer disputes.

Poison relations and prolong strikes 

The government’s own impact assessment says the law change will poison industrial relations and prolong strikes.

The new impact assessment, which has been published today, says the change will result in “worsening in the relationship between employers and workers – which could lead to more prolonged strike action in the short-term”.

The impact assessment also suggests it could hit workers’ pay and conditions.

The proposed change comes as the government seeks to impose new rules forcing some workers to work during strikes.

In September the TUC reported the government to the International Labour Organization (ILO) – the UN workers’ rights watchdog – over the Strikes Act.

Commenting on the announcement on agency workers, TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said:

“The Conservatives’ humiliating High Court defeat should have spelled the end of this cynical law. But now they are resurrecting the same irrational plans.

Allowing unscrupulous employers to bring in agency staff to deliver important services risks endangering public safety and escalating disputes. Agency recruitment bodies have repeatedly made clear they don’t want their staff to be put in the position where they have to cover strikes. But ministers are not listening.

The government’s own impact assessment is clear – this change will poison industrial relations and drag out disputes. This is the act of a desperate government looking to distract from its appalling record.”

Commenting on the development, Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said:

“The government would be better off tackling the real issues facing the country, not wasting more valuable time picking fights with unions. This pointless policy has already been defeated in the courts. Ministers should concentrate on tackling the cost of living crisis, improving wages and fixing run-down public services. Or better still, call an election and let someone else do the job.”