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Sunday, July 3, 2022

FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon blasts Tories as agency workers set to be legal during strikes

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng tabled legislation that will end restrictions on businesses using temporary staff to replace skilled employees during industrial action – a law that has been in place since 1973.

The UK Government said that repealing these “burdensome legal restrictions” will give employers the ability to continue operations and “minimise the negative and unfair impact of strikes on the British public”.

Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Once again trade unions are holding the country to ransom by grinding crucial public services and businesses to a halt. The situation we are in is not sustainable.

“Repealing these 1970s-era restrictions will give businesses freedom to access fully skilled staff at speed, all while allowing people to get on with their lives uninterrupted to help keep the economy ticking.”

Transport Secretary Grant Schapps added: “Reforms such as this legislation are vital and will ensure any future strikes will cause even less disruption and allow adaptable, flexible, fully skilled staff to continue working throughout.”

These laws would be imposed across the entirety of the UK, including Scotland.

However, speaking at First Minister’s Questions Nicola Sturgeon denounced the Tories‘ stance on trade unions.

She said: “[People] are paying the price for the Tory anti-trade union rhetoric, in fact the Tory anti-trade unionism which I completely deprecate.

“We should respect workers across our economy, we should respect public sector workers and we should seek to negotiate fair resolutions to disputes, particularly at a time of soaring inflation.

“I remember a few weeks ago when there was the potential for a ScotRail dispute Tory MSPs getting up and demanding intervention from this government to resolve it.

“So, let me repeat the call today for the UK Government to start doing their job, to get round the table to bring a resolution to this and to drop their anti-trade unionism and show some respect for workers across the economy.”

RMT boss Mick Lynch has previously said that the skilled staff required to undertake the work safely are simply not available.

He said: “There aren’t workers who can do safety critical work on the railway.

“If you get a bunch of people from an agency who have never who have never worked on a railway – if they want to go out on the track and maintain trains among moving train traffic on high speed lines – that is an enormous risk that Grant Schapps will be taking.”

The UK Government also announced that it is raising the maximum damages that courts can award against a union when strikes are found to be unlawful.

Since 1982 the maximum damages able to be sought from the UK’s biggest unions has been £250,000.

But should this new legislation pass through parliament it will increase to a maximum of £1 million.

In addition, plans are reportedly being drawn up to impose restrictions on the amount of rest days and overtime that striking workers can claim back.

Striking workers do not get paid for the days they are not working but they are able to make-up for some of that lost income by doing overtime once the strikes are over.

However, the Government plans would allegedly attempt to temporarily limit the amount of overtime workers would be permitted to do.

The RMT said that while they cannot confirm the Government’s plans, an overtime ban would have “huge implications for a rail network that relies on overtime for its operation”.



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