In line with its election promise, the government has begun making steps to allow businesses to hire agency workers as strike-breakers, with the launch of its public consultation on the topic yesterday.
Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 (Conduct Regulations) currently prohibits employment businesses from supplying temporary staff during industrial action to perform duties normally performed by workers taking part in industrial action or other workers covering for their colleagues taking part.
The proposal is to remove this regulation from the Conduct Regulations.
But it seems recruiters might be wary about stepping in to fill such staffing gaps, given the responsibility of a duty of care to their workers.
Kate Shoesmith, Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) head of policy, said: “We are not convinced that putting agencies and temporary workers into the middle of difficult industrial relations situations is a good idea for agencies, workers or their clients.
“Our members want to provide the best possible levels of service to their clients but they also have a duty of care to the workers they provide. We hope that the government’s consultation will ensure that the implications for all parties – employers, agencies and agency workers – can be evaluated.”
She said initial feedback from REC members showed the sentiment was that this would used in very few situations but could inflame situations and make a resolution more difficult.
InterQuest chairman Gary Ashworth told Recruiter it should be down to the agency worker to decide if they want to cross picket lines.
“It’s the choice of the temp. So long as the dangers are pointed out to them and explained thoroughly and properly, then I think it is the choice of the contractor or the temp just as it is the choice of the employee.
“The difference is the employee tends to have a more full briefing because they work full time for the company but if the temp is provided with the same level of information, they should be able to make up their own mind in the same way that full-time employees can make up their own mind.”
Ashley Lawson, associate at law firm Pannone Corporate told Recruiter the obligations of recruiters, should the change go ahead, would be heightened in practical terms when an industrial dispute is particularly confrontational and publicised".
An ordinary employers obligation is to identify health and safety issues, for example.
"The risks might be quite different to the usual risks in that workplace, if a substantial part of the usual workforce is striking. And whilst most strikes take place peacefully, an employment business should have an eye on any risk that could be posed, intentionally or unintentionally, by striking workers themselves. The obligation to ensure that the supply of a work-seeker is not detrimental to his or her interests remains in place (Regulation 20)."
The consultation document notes the amendment, which aims to “tackle the disproportionate impact of strikes”, would be reviewed in 2021.
Recruiter asked Transport for London – whose workers took part in 24-hour industrial action across the whole of the London Underground last week – what it thought of any change to the rule.
A spokesperson responded: “At present we don’t use agency staff or temporary workers to drive trains and that is primarily due to the training requirements that are unique to our organisation, which means it would be not be possible for non-employees to hold the appropriate licences.”
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