A new UK government law which will try to reduce the effectiveness of strikes will also apply in Wales, it has been announced.
Although the Welsh Government has said it supports unions, striking workers in Wales will also be affected by a new bill that will allow companies to supply agency workers during industrial action.
Subject to the approval of Parliament, the changes are being made through a statutory instrument and are expected to come into force over the next few weeks and will apply across England, Scotland and Wales.
The move comes as tens of thousands of railway workers stage a second strike in a bitter dispute over jobs, wages and conditions.
The Welsh government, which privatized Transport for Wales, is not in conflict with the railway workers in Wales, but Network Rail, which runs most of the infrastructure, is not devolved.
UK government ministers have pointed out that under current trade union laws, placement companies are not allowed to provide agency workers to cover strikers, saying it can have a “disproportionate impact”.
The legislation will repeal ‘onerous’ legal restrictions, giving businesses affected by a strike the freedom to use the services of employment firms that can provide skilled short-term agency staff, the UK government has said.
It would also help mitigate the impact of future strikes, such as those seen on the railways this week, by allowing trained temporary workers to take on crucial roles in keeping trains moving, ministers said.
They gave examples of qualified temporary workers able to fill vacancies such as train dispatchers.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Once again the unions are holding the country hostage by crippling crucial public services and businesses. The situation in which we find ourselves is not tenable.
“Repealing these 1970s restrictions will give businesses the freedom to quickly access fully qualified staff, while allowing people to carry on with their lives uninterrupted to help keep the economy going.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘Despite the best efforts of militant union leaders to bring our country to a standstill, it is clear that this week’s strikes have not had the desired impact as more people can work at residence.
“However, far too many hard-working families and businesses have been unfairly affected by the union’s refusal to modernize.
“Reforms such as this legislation are vital and will ensure that any future strikes cause even less disruption and allow adaptable, flexible and fully qualified staff to continue to work.”
The government has also announced that it is increasing the maximum damages that the courts can award to a union, when the strike has been found illegal by the court.
For larger unions, the maximum compensation will increase from £250,000 to £1million.
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “This is good news and could help us provide better service to our passengers during the strike days if this dispute drags on.
“While key security roles require several months of training, there are many other roles where they could be used, such as in security operations, which would make a real difference.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government should bring people to the table to find a fair solution to this rail dispute.
“But ministers are more interested in fighting cynically with the unions than in reaching a negotiated settlement.
“After criticizing P&O for replacing experienced workers with agency staff, Grant Shapps is using the same playbook.
“These plans are a deliberate attempt to undermine the right to strike and reduce the bargaining power of workers.
“Using less qualified agency personnel to provide important services will endanger public safety, escalate conflict and poison industrial relations.
‘Both trade unions and the agency recruitment industry have warned ministers that these plans are unworkable.’
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader and shadow secretary of state for the future of work, said: ‘This is a recipe for disaster, not only undermining wages and working conditions, but endangering public safety and tearing up the ministers’ own words.
“The government appears to have learned nothing from the P&O scandal, which led to multiple safety issues and the grounding of ships.
“The idea that this could solve the travel chaos they have created is just more conservative fantasy instead of real solutions.
“It’s no wonder business leaders oppose it as much as unions. It’s just another tactic by the conservatives to inflame more conflict in the country they should be leading, not dividing.
Gary Smith, General Secretary of the GMB, said: “It is shameful that instead of helping to find reasonable and negotiated solutions to legitimate disputes, this government has pressed the P&O button.
“Working people across the country are hurting 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 about it.
“In fact, they want to make it harder for people to defend their standard of living.
“With each passing day, we see how out of touch this government is.”
Unison deputy general secretary Jon Richards said: ‘A plan to tackle the cost of living crisis should be the government’s goal, not a fight with key workers and their unions.
“The use of temporary staff creates security problems and risks damaging the relationship between employers and their employees.
“Ministers’ time would be much better spent listening to the concerns of public sector workers and investing in them with the decent pay rises needed to protect essential services.”
During today’s Prime Minister’s Questions on Tuesday, Adam Price asked Mark Drakeford if he supports the strikes. The Prime Minister said he supported the trade union movement but said Labor leader Keir Starmer was in a “very different position”.
Adam Price had asked: “When it comes to the decentralization of the railways, it is important that we have a clear position on this here in Wales. Plaid Cymru is clear – the infrastructure should be devolved to Wales in the same way as the franchise. However, the position of the British Labor Party has been ambiguous at best.
“Now in the Westminster rail crisis there seems to be a competition between politicians to see who can be more invisible. Is it Grant Shapps refusing to sit down with the railroad unions, or is it Keir Starmer banning his shadow cabinet from the picket lines and chastising them for not speaking out their favor?
“While Johnson attacks workers and Starmer ignores them, Plaid Cymru will always stand with workers to defend their wages and job security. I was at an RMT picket this morning, proud to be there to express my solidarity. At a time when trade unionists and workers are being demonized, scapegoated, vilified to distract from Boris Johnson’s many failures, isn’t it even more important that we show them our support?
“If England is to have its Summer of Discontent, can we compare here – in the areas we control – having a Summer of Solidarity and taking into account, for example, the unions’ call for pay agreements which follow in the minus the pace of inflation? ”
The Prime Minister replied: “Well, Llywydd, there are no inhibitions about members of my group who show their support for the trade union movement.
“Keir Starmer is in a very different position. He knows perfectly well that if he were to sanction this, history would never, ever be one of support for the trade union movement; it would be for the Conservatives to succeed in their wish to present this as an example of the country returning to days that were left far behind.
“So in our context, where we have a partnership approach with our unions, where we don’t have a dispute with our unions, of course the members of the Labor Party here in Wales are able to demonstrate their support to our trade union colleagues, but we operate in a different context and we come to different conclusions for very good reasons.
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