The end of July saw huge railway strikes across the UK following ongoing disputes around the working conditions, level of job security, and salaries. It’s predicted that other unions such as nurses, teachers, and postal workers may do the same in the near future.
In response to the strikes, the government proposed scrapping the historic restriction on employers using agency workers to provide temporary cover for striking workers. This was considered by government back in 2015 although nothing came of it at the time. They also have announced that there will be an increase in the maximum damages that can be awarded against unions in respect of unlawful strike action.
What will the change mean?
The government have stated that the purpose of the change is to allow businesses to have skilled agency workers to plug staffing gaps during a strike.
Removing this barrier is likely to widen the recruitment pool, however employers must ensure that any temporary workers have the correct skill set to cover the job in order to meet health and safety requirements.
For certain sectors, this will not pose an issue, however for sectors such as transport, where specialist skills and training are required, the new rules may not help alleviate gaps left by striking workers. This was acknowledged by the government who said, “businesses will still need to comply with broader health and safety rules that keep both employees and the public safe so it is unlikely that safety critical roles like train drivers and conductors will be easily covered”.
What the legislation is likely to do is allow already trained and skilled employees from other sectors of a business to be redeployed. Whilst they can cover the skilled roles, agency workers may be able to cover their roles.
Employers should check that their contractual terms provide an express right to change employee’s job roles on a temporary basis to ensure that this can happen. Additionally, employers should consider training current staff so that they can cover critical and skilled roles, particularly in sectors prone to strikes.
What can employers do to keep operating during a strike?
There are a number of things that employers can choose to do during a strike in order to keep their business running. These options include:
- Redeploying existing staff members
- Using an employment agency or business to find short-term employees
- Engaging temporary workers without using an employment business
- Using existing agency workers to do the work they were originally supplied to do
- Outsources areas of the business to a third party temporarily
If you have any questions or concerns about the above, please contact Employment Solicitor Katie Bowen Nicholas.