Last reviewed 23 June 2022

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said that a change in the law will enable businesses to supply skilled agency workers to plug staffing gaps during industrial action.

Under current trade union laws employment businesses are restricted from supplying temporary agency workers to fill duties by employees who are taking part in strikes.

Removing these regulations will, the Government insists, give employers more flexibility, but it emphasises that businesses will still need to comply with broader health and safety rules that keep both employees and the public safe.

It would be their responsibility to hire cover workers with the necessary skills and/or qualifications to meet those obligations.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “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.”

However the Government’s proposals are facing opposition from the TUC and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) who have described the plan as counterproductive, impractical and putting workers at risk.

A joint statement said: “The two organisations, representing both the agency sector and unions, think the plan is unworkable and oppose it in the strongest possible terms. They urge the Government to leave the current ban in place as a key element of a sustainable national employment relations framework.”

Meanwhile, the Government has also announced that 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. The caps on damages, which have not been changed since 1982, will be increased so that, for the biggest unions, the maximum award will rise from £250,000 to £1 million.

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

The repeal of the agency worker ban during industrial action will give employers more flexibility to hire temporary staff to cover those who are participating in a strike, thus minimising disruption to business operations.

However, there are many considerations for employers in these situations.

First, they may need to build connections with a reputable agency to ensure the workers who are provided are able to meet the demands of the service. Issues can arise if the workers don’t have the necessary skills or qualifications to fulfil a particular role.

As such, it may be beneficial to also liaise with learning and development experts to create a training programme which quickly and efficiently prepares temporary staff to cover key roles. A full induction process may not be possible due to time constraints, so a whistlestop orientation can be effective for all.