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New UK Government law to undermine strikes will also be applied to Wales

23 Jun 2022 7 minute read
The new Stadler FLIRT. Picture by Transport for Wales.

A new UK Government law that will attempt to reduce the effectiveness of strikes will apply in Wales as well, it has been announced.

Despite the Welsh Government said that it was supportive of trade unions, striking workers in Wales will also be effected by a proposed new law that will enable businesses to supply agency workers during industrial action.

Subject to parliamentary approval, the changes are made through a statutory instrument and are set to come into force over the coming weeks and will apply across England, Scotland and Wales.

The move comes as tens of thousands of railway workers stage a second strike in a bitter dispute over jobs, pay and conditions.

The Welsh Government which has privatised Transport for Wales is not in dispute with rail workers in Wales but Network Rail, which runs most of the infrastructure, is not devolved.

UK Government ministers pointed out that under current trade union laws, employment businesses are restricted from supplying temporary agency workers to cover for strikers, saying it can have a “disproportionate impact”.

The legislation will repeal the “burdensome” legal restrictions, giving businesses impacted by strike action the freedom to tap into the services of employment businesses who can provide skilled, temporary agency staff at short notice, said the UK Government.

It would also help mitigate against the impact of future strikes, such as those seen on the railways this week, by allowing trained, temporary workers to carry out crucial roles to keep trains moving, ministers said.

They gave examples of skilled temporary workers being able to fill vacant positions such as train dispatchers.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Once again trade unions are holding the country to ransom by grinding crucial public services and businesses to a halt. The situation we are in is not sustainable.

“Repealing these 1970s-era restrictions will give businesses freedom to access fully skilled staff at speed, all while allowing people to get on with their lives uninterrupted to help keep the economy ticking.”

‘Dispute’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Despite the best efforts of militant union leaders to bring our country to a standstill, it’s clear this week’s strikes did not have the desired impact due to more people being able to work from home.

“However, far too many hard working families and businesses were unfairly affected by union’s refusal to modernise.

“Reforms such as this legislation are vital and will ensure any future strikes will cause even less disruption and allow adaptable, flexible, fully skilled staff to continue working throughout.”

The Government also announced it is raising the maximum damages that courts can award against a union, when strike action has been found by the court to be unlawful.

For the biggest unions, the maximum award will rise from £250,000 to £1 million.

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “This is welcome news and could help us to offer a better service to our passengers during strike days if this dispute drags on.

“While key safety-critical roles require many months of training, there are many other roles where they could be used, such as in security operations, which would make a real difference.”

‘Undermine’

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government should be getting people around the table to find a fair resolution to this rail dispute.

“But ministers are more interested in cynically picking a fight with unions than reaching a negotiated settlement.

“Having slammed P&O for replacing experienced workers with agency staff, Grant Shapps is using the same playbook.

“These plans are a deliberate attempt to undermine the right to strike and to reduce workers’ bargaining power.

“Bringing in less qualified agency staff to deliver important services will endanger public safety, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations.

“Unions and the agency recruitment industry have both warned ministers these plans are unworkable.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s Deputy Leader and shadow secretary of state for the future of work, said: “This is a recipe for disaster, not just undermining pay and working conditions, but risking public safety and ripping up ministers’ own words.

“The Government appear to have learned nothing from the P&O scandal, which resulted in multiple safety failures and the grounding of vessels.

“The idea this could solve the travel chaos they have created is just more Tory fantasy in place of real solutions.

“It’s no wonder business leaders oppose it as much as trade unions do. It’s just another Tory tactic to inflame more disputes in the country they should be leading, not dividing.”

‘Fight’

Gary Smith, GMB general secretary said: “It’s shameful that instead of helping to find sensible, negotiated solutions to legitimate disputes, this government has pressed the P&O button.

“Working people across the country are suffering and taking action to feed their families and pay their bills during this cost-of-living crisis but Boris Johnson and his team just don’t want to know.

“In fact, they want to make it harder for people to defend their standards of living.

“With every passing day we see just how out of touch this Government is.”

Unison’s assistant general secretary Jon Richards said: “A plan to tackle the cost-of-living crisis should be the Government’s focus, not picking a fight with key workers and their unions.

“The use of agency staff creates safety issues and risks damaging relations between employers and their employees.

“Ministers’ time would be much better spent listening to the concerns of public sector workers and investing in them with the decent pay rises needed to protect essential services.”

‘Different context’

At today’s First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday, Adam Price asked Mark Drakeford if he supported the strikes. The First Minister said he supported the trade union movement but said that Labour leader Keir Starmer was in a “very different position”.

Adam Price had asked: “When it comes to the devolution of railways, it’s important that we have a clear position on that here in Wales. Plaid Cymru is clear – the infrastructure should be devolved to Wales in the same way that the franchise is. However, the position from the UK Labour party has at best been ambiguous.

“Now in Westminster’s rail crisis there seems to be a competition between politicians to see who can be the most invisible. Is it Grant Shapps refusing to sit down with the rail unions, or is it Keir Starmer banning his Shadow Cabinet from the picket lines and berating them from speaking out in favour?

“While Johnson attacks workers, and Starmer ignores them, Plaid Cymru will always stand side by side with workers defending their pay and job security. I was at a RMT picket line this morning, proud to be there expressing my solidarity. At a time when trade unionists and workers are being demonised, being turned into the scapegoats, being vilified to distract attention from Boris Johnson’s many failures, isn’t it even more important that we show them our support?

“If England is to have its Summer of Discontent, can we contrast that here – within those fields that we control – have a Summer of Solidarity and heed, for example, the call from unions for pay deals that at least keeps pace with inflation?”

The First Minister responded: “Well, Llywydd, no inhibition exists on members of my group demonstrating their support for the trade union movement.

“Keir Starmer is in a very different position. He knows perfectly well that if he were to sanction that, the story would never, ever be, would it, about support for the trade union movement; it would be the Tories succeeding in their wish to portray this as somehow an example of the country returning to days that have been left far behind.

“So, in our context, where we have a partnership approach with our trade unions, where we don’t have a dispute with our trade unions, of course members of the Labour Party here in Wales are able to demonstrate their support for our trade union colleagues, but we operate in a different context and we come to different conclusions for very good reasons.”


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Richard 1
Richard 1
5 months ago

Are the subeditors on strike too? “Mitigate” means to reduce the severity of something, “mitigate against … ” is nonsense – you mean militate against”. And this:- “striking workers in Wales will also be effected by a proposed new law”? They might be affected …

George
George
5 months ago

“While Johnson attacks workers, and Starmer ignores them, Plaid Cymru will always stand side by side with workers defending their pay and job security.”

At some point, potentially, Adam Price could be the First Minister and responsible for getting employers and workers round the table to compromise and end threat of strikes.

Tories are attacking Unions and going MIA – this isn’t helping anyone but themselves as per – but Starmer probably realises that he wants to be Prime Minister rather than leader of a trade union.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
5 months ago

Mr Drakeford the more clear water we can put between our ‘place of sanctuary’ and that ‘hostile environment’ across the border the better…

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
5 months ago

Striking should be the last resort to force stubborn greedy businesses to look after their employees. The Tories have never cared about the well-being of the employee, hence this new policy. It’s because the employer has too much power these days and the unions have been decimated that we have now such discontentment. Poor wage rises, poor working conditions (The gig economy and zero contract hours – what a scam!) and profiteering, compounded by a huge cost of living rise, has led us to what will probably be a year of strikes and unrest.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
5 months ago

More fascist English Conservative imposition on both Senedd Cymru & Scottish parliament sovereignty. They force themselves upon our hard-fought respective democracies like a predictor would their intended victim. They know no shame.

Boris Johnson’s idocracy now with impunity bulldoze through our devolution like the Tory Taliban would our human right as a people to freely govern ourselves without threats or intimidation. The time for independence is long overdue!

#YesCymru 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿. #Ymlaen 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Gary H
Gary H
5 months ago

The comments already posted are all very pertinent. But this is at best just political and opportunistic grandstanding. You could never replace all NHS nurses or all teachers, should they go on strike, with agency staff. And as for railways, there just aren’t any qualified and line-safe signalmen and drivers. Nice try, Grant Shapps, but you’ve got to come up with something workable if you want to be nasty to our skilled – and scarce – railwaymen.

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