UK government consults on plan to allow agency workers to cover strikes

LONDON (Reuters) – The British government launched a consultation on Thursday on its plan to repeal a ban on agency staff being supplied to cover for workers who are taking part in industrial action.

Then-business minister Kwasi Kwarteng originally changed the regulations last year, as Britain faced an ongoing wave of industrial disputes over pay and conditions, to make it easier for businesses to use temporary staff during strikes.

But in July the High Court overturned Kwarteng’s decision after a legal challenge by 13 trade unions that it was unlawful because the changes to the regulations, which had been in place since 1976, were made without consulting them.

“There are questions over whether such a wide-ranging and blanket restriction, that prevents employment businesses offering their services to hirers facing strike action, remains appropriate given the shape and nature of the modern UK economy,” the government consultation said.

The consultation, which states that the ministers’ provisional view is that repealing the ban is “the most appropriate course of action”, will close in January next year.

“They are resurrecting the same irrational plans,” Paul Nowak, General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress umbrella body, said in a statement.

“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.”

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by William James)