The UK government’s proposals to repeal a Welsh law so that agency workers can cover for workers on strike has sparked outrage from Welsh trade unions. The move, which would amend legislation passed by the Welsh Parliament, has been criticised as an “attack on devolution” which would undermine Welsh workers’ right to take industrial action.
The government in Westminster has stated its plans to repeal a regulation within the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003 through an amendment. The 2003 law currently prohibits businesses from supplying agency workers to fill in for workers on strike. Legislation banning this practice has been in place since 1973.
Though this amendment applies to England, Wales and Scotland, there is also separate legislation in Wales that applies to public services delivered by devolved Welsh public bodies. Under the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017, devolved Welsh public bodies are prohibited from using agency workers to provide cover during industrial action. The UK government also intends to repeal this law through primary legislation in the UK Parliament.
Under UK law, anyone has the right to be a member of a trade union. Trade unions can legally call for their members to strike under certain conditions. Article 11 of the UK’s Human Rights Act protects the right to freedom of assembly and association, including the right to form trade unions.
Unions condemn the proposals as anti-democratic
Dominic MacAskill, the head of bargaining and campaigns at UNISON Cymru/Wales, said that trade unions in Wales would “stand united in opposition” to attempts from the UK government to repeal the provisions in the 2017 law. He pointed to the UK government’s threat to repeal the Act when it was passed by the Welsh Parliament.
MacAskill said: “UNISON Cymru/Wales and the wider trade union movement is united in our opposition to any attacks on devolution and the partnership approach developed between ourselves and the Welsh Government.”
He added: “Recent strikes by unions such as the RMT [National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers] have shown a significant increase in public support for workers taking action to defend their rights to fair terms and conditions and this is also at the heart of UNISON in Wales and across the UK.”
The UK Government's plans to scrap the Senedd's Trade Union Act (Wales) 2017 are a total disgrace.
This is a fundamental attack on workers' rights & on devolution. (1/2)
BBC News – Rail strike: UK ministers to scrap Senedd ban on agency staffhttps://t.co/Z7HCKklTvu
— Wales TUC Cymru (@walestuc) June 27, 2022
Last month, members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) working for Network Rail in Wales went on strike due to a dispute over conditions, pay and jobs.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch called the government’s plans an attack on trade union rights and an “anti-democratic move to undermine Welsh devolution”.
He said: “Using agency workers to break strike action is immoral and impractical on the railways.”
“Our members are highly skilled and cannot simply be replaced by agency staff.”
“RMT will use all legal means and peaceful civil disobedience to resist any further attacks against trade union rights,” added Lynch.
A UK Government spokesperson said: “While we continue to work with the Welsh government in a number of areas, it has always been the case that employment and industrial relations law is a reserved matter for the UK Government.”
They added: “We make no apology for taking action so that essential services, such as train lines, are run as effectively as possible, ensuring the British public don’t have to pay the price for disproportionate strike action.”