Attack on right to strike

Unite’s Sharon Graham hits back against law change allowing agency workers to break strikes

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Unite has condemned moves by the government to change a law which will now allow employers to bring in temporary agency workers to break strikes, branding it a “political stunt”.

The government announced that it will introduce a statutory instrument that will change a law, in place for over 40 years, that has banned the use of agency staff to replace workers who are on strike.

By repealing the law through statutory instrument rather than through a Bill would mean that the law change will not be subject to a full debate in Parliament. 

The government announcement was made amid the most widespread UK rail strikes in 40 years, with 40,000 members of transport union RMT taking strike action across much of the UK’s rail network for three days last week.

The announcement also comes at a time when inflation continues to skyrocket as pay lags far behind. More and more workers, including thousands of Unite members, have either threatened industrial action or downed tools to protect their living standards in recent months.

The change in law has been subject to widespread criticism, with trade unions, campaigners and even businesses from the agency sector itself saying that repealing the ban on agency workers during strikes would be unsafe, unworkable and would only prolong industrial disputes.

Economists have highlighted that the move would have a negative impact on workers’ pay, while one law professor noted that it may violate the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Responding to the government’s latest attack on the right to strike, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Attacking trade unions to prop up the Prime Minister will not tackle soaring inflation. Profits not wages are driving price rises. Trying to sow division won’t solve the cost of living crisis and this political stunt should be treated with the disdain it deserves.

“In recent months, Unite has won £50 million in pay rises for tens of thousands of workers, supported by the biggest strike fund in the country and union reps totally focused on defending and improving jobs, pay and conditions,” she added. “We will not be deterred from this path in any way, shape or form – and absolutely not by a government that time and again sides with the bad bosses over workers trying to get a fair deal.

“We stand ready to defend our members against any and all attacks.”

By Hajera Blagg

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