Tory plans to break rail strikes by using agency workers in what it says is dangerous ‘arson’

Tory ministers outline plans to hire contract workers to fill gaps left by striking railway workers. But it has sparked a backlash from unions, Labor and even recruitment agencies

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Rachel Reeves accuses the government of an imminent train strike

Tory’s plans to break rail strikes by hiring agency workers instead have been blasted by the recruitment industry, unions and Labour.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves warned that the radical move – designed to ensure there are enough workers to keep trains running during a strike – would be unsafe.

And unions warned the move was “reckless,” while Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said it was an “outrageous act” that would “undermine” disputes and lead to “bitterness and division.”

Neil Carberry, the REC’s Chief Executive, representing UK recruitment agencies, said: “Repealing the ban on agency workers replacing striking workers is the wrong policy. It puts agency staff and agencies in a totally unfair position.”

It came after reports that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps could amend the law – after a series of planned strikes this month – to allow agency workers to fill the gaps left by striking workers.

When asked about the proposal, Cabinet Secretary Brandon Lewis said the government is “taking nothing off the table”.

Boris Johnson at Paddington Station

But Shadow Chancellor Ms Reeves told Sky News: “Would you feel safe boarding a train if you knew there was a temporary worker instead of a properly qualified and trained train signalman? I know I wouldn’t do it.

“Rather than stoking the flames and increasing tensions, the government needs to act more like firefighters than arsonists and try to find a solution to this.”

RMT strikes will paralyze services for the week of June 20 over wages, working conditions, 2,500 maintenance job cuts and ticket office closures.

Separately, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) is also voting workers for industrial action, which could take place later in the summer.

Ms Reeves twice declined to say whether she would go on strike if she were an RMT worker.

That was in contrast to Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, who said last week, “If I were a member of the RMT and my jobs were at risk like this, I would vote to go on strike.”

Tory Cabinet Secretary Mr Lewis told the BBC: “We currently have a situation where I think the average salary in the rail sector is already around £46,000 a year, let alone what they are asking for as an increase , compared to an average wage in this country of closer to £26,000.

“So it’s a very successful sector anyway and I think it’s important that we consider everything we can do to keep the railroad going.”

Strikes to paralyze services across the country (stock image)


Bloomberg via Getty Images)

But TUC deputy general secretary Paul Nowak said: “This government is desperate to distract from its many failings by inciting a fight with the unions.

“Allowing agency workers to replace striking workers would undermine the right to strike and would be extremely reckless.

“Hiring less qualified and experienced staff to deliver essential services would create real safety risks for the public and the workforce.

“Using agency workers to try to break strikes would put these workers in an appalling situation, exacerbate disputes and poison industrial relations.

“Some may not realize they are being asked to break a strike until it is too late.

“Having repeatedly promised a high-wage economy, ministers now appear determined to reduce workers’ bargaining power and make it more difficult for workers to achieve fair wages and conditions.

“Let’s call this what it is. The PM is tossing red meat to his rebellious backbenchers to try and secure his position.”

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