A change in UK law allowing businesses to hire agency workers to plug staffing gaps caused by strike action has been described as “dangerous and anti-democratic”.
The UK Government on Thursday repealed trade union laws that had restricted firms from bringing in temporary staff to fill vacant positions during industrial action.
It comes after action taken by the RMT in a dispute over pay brought major disruption to the UK rail network.
The change in the law will apply to England, Scotland and Wales.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng insisted that “we will not let trade unions grind our economy to a halt”, after the changes were made.
“In light of militant trade union action threatening to bring vital public services to a standstill, we have moved at speed to repeal these burdensome,1970s – style restrictions,” said Kwarteng.
“From today, businesses exposed to disruption caused by strike action will be able to tap into skilled, temporary workers to provide the services that allow honest, hardworking people to get on with their lives. That’s good news for our society and for our economy.”
However, the move has been criticised by unions and opposition parties.
The Scottish Government said that the plans were not shared in advance with them before they were implemented.
And the Scottish Trade Unions Congress (STUC) branded the changes as “dangerous and anti-democratic” as they insisted that they will be opposed “vigorously” by the labour movement.
Roz Foyer, STUC general secretary, said: “The UK Government have now made legal what they condemned only a few months ago during the scandal of P&O ferries.
“We see through them. It’s another dangerous, anti-democratic and anti-union move from a government clearly running scared of the power of collectivised workers.
“Legalising strike breaking is a desperate, pathetic exertion of a government within their last vestiges of power.
“This won’t work. Workers will stand together in any attempt to undercut our right to withdraw our labour and will lead the charge in complete non-compliance of this flagrant attack on our movement.
Gary Smith, GMB general secretary, accused the UK Government of making it harder for people to defend their living standards.
“It is shameful that instead of helping to find sensible, negotiated solutions to legitimate disputes, this government has pressed the P&O button,” he said.
“Working people across the country are suffering and taking action to feed their families and pay their bills during this cost of living crisis but Boris Johnson and his team just don’t want to know.
“In fact, they want to make it harder for people to defend their standards of living.
“With every passing day we see just how out of touch this Government is.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson underlined the need for a “progressive approach” to industrial relations.
“Employment law remains reserved to the UK Government and these plans were not shared in advance with the Scottish Government,” they said.
“Maintaining a progressive approach to industrial relations – alongside ensuring workers have an effective voice, including through trades unions – is a priority for the Scottish Government.
“The Fair Work policy will continue to promote fairer work practices across the labour market in Scotland.”
Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said: “This is an attack on workers and a recipe for disaster.
“Not only is it a cynical attempt to undermine pay and conditions, but it puts public safety at risk too.
“The Tories will sink to any depths to try and hide their own failures.”
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