UK Mulls Allowing Agency Workers to Break ‘Marxist’ Union Strikes

UK Mulls Allowing Agency Workers to Break ‘Marxist’ Union Strikes
Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps arrives for the weekly Cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London on May 24, 2022. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Alexander Zhang

The UK government is considering legal changes to allow agency workers to replace striking staff in a move to guard the public against disruption caused by unions led by “Marxists,” according to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The move would reverse a legal restriction introduced under former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair that prevents employers from hiring agency workers to cover for striking staff and would apply to all sectors.

This legal change was promised in former Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party manifesto in 2015, which stated that the government would “repeal nonsensical restrictions banning employers from hiring agency staff to provide essential cover during strikes.”

The Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers’ union (RMT) has stated that it will “shut down” the country’s railway network on June 21, 23, and 25 in what union leaders say will amount to the “biggest rail strike in modern history.”

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Shapps said: “The country must not continue to be held to ransom. These strikes are incredibly premature, and we will use every possible lever to ensure that the public is protected in the future in particular.

“I can’t over-stress our determination to get the right outcome for the travelling public in the end on this, even if the unions insist on putting the country through considerable pain in the meantime.”

Shapps said workers are being misled by union leaders, some of whom are “very extreme Marxists, who are determined to turn this into some sort of fight, as they see it, with a Tory government.”

Ministers are looking at drawing up laws that would make industrial action illegal unless a certain number of staff are working, Shapps told The Sunday Telegraph in May.

Writing in The Sun on June 12, Shapps said workers could also be banned from working overtime to make back pay lost during industrial action.

He wrote, “Rail managers and ministers are determined to ensure strikers cannot milk the system to maintain their income while inflicting misery on the public.”

Unions have reacted with anger to the government’s plans.

TUC Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak said, “Allowing agency staff to replace striking workers would undermine the right to strike and be extremely reckless.”

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said, “We already have the most restrictive anti-democratic trade union laws in western Europe, and if the government attempts to reduce our rights further, the RMT, along with the rest of the trade union movement, will mount the fiercest resistance possible.”

PA Media contributed to this report.