Recruitment agencies have attacked Boris Johnson’s plan to tear up laws to stop their staff being used to break strikes – warning it would breach international commitments.
The head of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which represents more than 3,000 agencies, also warned that the idea would fail to avert railway strikes and would only ‘prolong’ the bitter dispute .
Legislation is expected this week to repeal the ban – introduced in 1973 by the Conservative government of Edward Heath – as a ‘summer of discontent’ looms.
The move was promised in the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto and the cabinet reportedly endorsed Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, to go ahead.
But Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Confederation, said: “The agency industry as a whole does not want to be involved in this. We are very opposed to this plan.
He said many leading companies had made a ‘global pledge not to replace striking workers’ – and highlighted the backlash if they did what ministers wanted.
“Look at what happened to a few agencies that were inadvertently drawn into the P&O case a few months ago and the damage it did to those agencies,” he said. BBC Radio 4.
Mr Carberry said the agencies in no way had reserve staff willing to cross picket lines and deal with the wrath of strikers – and would be “worried” for their safety if they did.
He also highlighted the “cold fury” that there had been no consultation on the law to end the ban – which will come into effect in July, The Independent understand.
“We don’t think this policy will work, we don’t think it will provide the workers the government wants,” the chief executive warned, adding, “It will only prolong the conflict, it will not resolve it. not”.
Huw Merriman, the Conservative chairman of the House of Commons transport committee, also rejected the idea that breaking the strike could resolve the rail dispute.
“Many of those who will go on strike are in skilled fields. You just can’t substitute without going through 12 months training for a flagman,” he pointed out.
Mr Merriman asked why the government was dragging its feet on a separate plan to demand a ‘minimum level of service’ during strikes in key industries, such as rail.
The idea was floated months ago by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps – but is no longer expected to be introduced this year as it requires primary legislation.
The Trades Union Congress also attacked the plan to break staff strikes, warning it would put them in “a dreadful situation” and “poison industrial relations”.
“Just a few months ago, Grant Shapps criticized P&O for replacing experienced workers with agency staff. But now he is proposing to do the same on the railways,” said Paul Nowak, secretary deputy general of the TUC.