Ministers are planning to bring legislation to Parliament which would allow employers to use agency staff to cover shortfalls left by striking staff members.
While opposition parties and unions have criticised the proposal for undermining the right to strike, the government insists it will help limit disruption caused by industrial action.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the government’s plan will help keep the country running even if trade unions attempt to hold the nation “to ransom”.
He said: “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.”
The changes would take effect in England, Scotland and Wales and apply to the public and private sectors. It has been suggested that, if given parliamentary approval, the law change could be in force by mid-July.
The move comes as the RMT union is holding a series of strikes this week, which have effectively shut down the rail network in Great Britain. Talks between union representatives and rail industry leaders failed to yield a breakthrough on Wednesday, with the strikes resuming on Thursday [June 23] having begun on Tuesday [June 21].
RMT workers are locked in a dispute with rail bosses over salaries, redundancies and working conditions. The union is pursuing a pay rise of at least seven per cent amid the cost-of-living crisis and rampant inflation, while employers have offered just three per cent.
Taking aim at the government’s plans to enable employers to draft in agency staff during strikes, Trades Union Congress general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “The government should be getting people around the table to find a fair resolution to this rail dispute.
“But ministers are more interested in cynically picking a fight with unions than reaching a negotiated settlement.”
Labour deputy leader, Angela Rayner, added that the government’s plans would undermine pay and working conditions and pose a risk to public safety.
Network Rail meanwhile has welcomed the government's proposal, saying that it will help provide better rail services on days of strikes if the dispute continues for longer.
Image taken from Wikimedia Commons