Using agency workers to break strikes will threaten safety
I have already written about the effect that the Trade Union Bill will have on health and safety by restricting the right to strike and limiting the amount of time off that trade union health and safety representatives in the public sector can take to protect their members.
Well, in the lead-up to the lobby of parliament that is being held on 2nd November, here is another reason. The Trade Union Bill will allow employers to use agency workers to break strikes, something that has been banned in the UK since the (Conservative) Government introduced legislation in 1973. Now there are lots of reasons to object to that as it reduces the impact of strike action, and upsets the power balance between workers and employers, but there are also very serious safety concerns.
Basically, the Bill will allow employers to use inexperienced replacement workers to be brought in to the workplace with no knowledge of any of the safety risks. In some cases the risks are obvious. Using an agency worker to cover a role which requires knowledge of a particular procedure such as operating complex machinery would be an obvious example, but even in workplaces where the risk is not obvious, there can be problems. If a workplace is staffed by agency workers, is the employer going to ensure that they all know about the fire and emergency procedures or that there are first-aiders in place? Will they have updated the risk assessments to take the changes in staff into account?
In every workplace, from a school to a warehouse, there are going to be some risks. In normal circumstances, when new workers start, they are working alongside the existing workers and there will usually always be people there who know the basic safety procedures. On the other hand, take a group of people from an agency, put them into a workplace at a few days notice, and you have an accident waiting to happen.
Of course in some other workplaces the situation could be catastrophic. If you look at some of the situations where employers have threatened to bring in outsides to break a strike they have been in high risk sectors including the London Underground and the Fire service. Bringing in agency workers is also likely to put public safety at risk and is likely to inflame the situation, potentially prolonging disputes.
The existing rules prohibiting the use of agency workers during strikes were introduced for a good reason, and they are the norm in other countries as well. A majority of European member states have laws or arrangements in place that prohibit or restrict the use of agency workers in establishments where strike action is taking place.
Any change will place Britain even more out of line with the rest of Europe and also will put the Government in conflict with many agency providers, including the trade organisation the Recruitment and Employment Confederation. The proposals are not even popular with the public. A poll conducted by the TUC last month found 66% of 1,700 people surveyed thought that employers using temporary workers as cover during strikes will give permanent workers less power to defend their pay and conditions at work.
This is just one more reason to campaign against this vindictive and dangerous Bill. Find out what you can do to help stop it at www.tuc.org.uk/tubill