Recruitment firms attack plans to allow agency workers to replace strikers

Recruitment firms have stepped up their opposition to controversial Government plans to allow agency staff to replace striking workers, warning they would “inflame” industrial disputes.

Leaders of a number of the biggest recruitment companies in the country wrote to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng expressing concern at the proposals, which were announced in response to the rail strikes.

The letter said the recruitment industry contributes nearly £40 billion a year to the UK economy and has supported structural changes required during the pandemic.

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Glasgow Queen Street station. Credit: PA

“As professional services businesses that underpin the labour market across every part of the UK economy, we are naturally keen to support future growth – but this decision by Government is unhelpful,” said the letter.

“We strongly believe it has the potential to cost our businesses as we will be held responsible for sending strike-breakers across a picket line and putting our workers in harm’s way.

“It will not matter if our individual businesses choose not to supply – the industry will be called into disrepute.

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“We have seen, time and time again, how the media and consumers directly via social media can affect a reputation.

“At a time when we should be working collaboratively with Government and other business leaders to address the more pressing needs of our economy, this is an unnecessary distraction.”

The recruiters said they had hoped that news reports of the plans would be followed by consultation with the industry, adding: “We remain ready to engage in those discussions at any time.

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“But we can only see these proposals inflaming strikes – not ending them.”

The letter was signed by firms including Manpower, Adecco, Pertemps and Hays.

The Institution of Occupation and Health (IOSH) called on the Government to make sure continued commitment to employees’ and the public’s safety when changing the law to allow businesses to employ agency workers to plug staffing gaps during industrial action.

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The body for health and safety professionals reiterated that while the proposed new law will give employers more flexibility to take on temporary agency staff during strikes, businesses will still have to comply with health and safety rules to keep people safe.

IOSH Head of Health and Safety, Ruth Wilkinson, said: “Although employers are being supported to deliver services and keep businesses running, we must not lose sight of the risks that can also be generated and must continue to implement good health and safety management and practice,” she said

“Standards must be maintained to ensure the health and safety of workers and the public in the workplace – this is simply non-negotiable.”

A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson said: “The tried-and-tested contingency plans used last week were only needed because the RMT leadership decided to go through with unnecessary and disruptive strike action, which put the recovery of the railways at risk and cost the industry £150 million.

“Our focus was to run the best service for customers who had to travel by train, and we appreciated the efforts of everyone who worked to keep the network moving.”

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