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New Clause 12 - Industrial action and agency workers

Trade Union Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 27th October 2015.

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‘(1) Subject to subsection (3), an employment business shall not introduce or supply a work-seeker to a hirer to perform—

(a) the duties normally performed by a worker who is taking part in a strike or other industrial action (“the first worker“), or

(b) the duties normally performed by any other worker employed by the hirer and who is assigned by the hirer to perform the duties normally performed by the first worker,

unless in either case the employment business does not, and has no reasonable grounds for knowing, that the first worker is taking part in a strike or other industrial action.

(2) Subject to subsection (3) an employer (“the hirer“) shall not procure an employment agency to supply a work-seeker to perform—

(a) the duties normally performed by a worker who is taking part in a strike or other industrial action (“the first worker“), or

(b) the duties normally performed by any other worker employed by the hirer and who is assigned by the hirer to perform the duties normally performed by the first worker, unless in either case the hirer does not, and has no reasonable grounds for knowing, that the first worker is taking part in a strike or other industrial action.

(3) Subsections (2) and (3) shall not apply if, in relation to the first workers, the strike or other industrial action in question is an unofficial strike or other unofficial industrial action for the purposes of section 237 of the 1992 Act.

(4) For the purposes of this section an “employment business” means an employment business as defined by the Employment Agencies Act 1973.

(5) Breach of the provisions of this section shall be actionable against both the employment business and the hirer for breach of statutory duty.

(6) For the avoidance of doubt, the duty in subsections (1) and (2) above are owed to—

(a) any worker who is taking part in the strike or industrial action; and

(b) any trade union of which such a worker is a member.’—(Dr Lisa Cameron.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to appear again under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. The new clause pertains to agency workers. We have heard quite extensively from many public sector bodies about their concerns in this regard. They have very clear concerns relating, for example, to patient safety, which has been highlighted again and again.

Repealing the existing prohibition on hiring agency staff to replace workers participating in industrial action fundamentally undermines the right to strike. It reduces the impact of strike action and upsets the power balance between workers and employers. Deploying a replacement workforce during a strike serves only to prolong the dispute, delay resolution and embitter industrial relations.

A change of this nature has implications for all workers. If rogue employers can draft in low-paid temporary workers to break strikes, that is likely to drag down pay and working conditions for workers right across the economy, as fewer people will be willing to stand up for themselves when facing injustice at work because they will know that they can simply be replaced. The change could also have an adverse implication for the agency workers themselves. It places them in an extremely difficult situation. They may risk not getting further work if they refuse such placements and they would have no statutory protection. Furthermore, introducing inexperienced workers to take on the role of the permanent workforce in a workplace that they are not familiar with has implications for health and safety and the quality of the services, as we have heard. That would impact both on the workers and on the public, who may want or require to use the services.

A recent YouGov poll found that of those surveyed, 65% were against bringing in temporary agency workers to break public sector strikes, with more than half saying that they thought that that would worsen services and have a negative impact on safety. Only 8% of the public who were surveyed believed that hiring agency workers during strikes would improve services.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Scottish National Party, Glasgow South West

In the evidence sessions, we heard from passenger transport groups, which made it plain that if train or bus drivers, for example, were replaced during a strike by people who were not trained, that would have real effects on public safety. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice)

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. We have heard it time and again not just from the workers to whom he refers, but from healthcare and other workers.

The drawbacks of allowing agency staff to be used in this way are recognised by other European countries. By repealing the current legislation, the UK Government would become an outlier in this regard, as the majority  of other European countries prohibit or severely restrict the use of agency workers during industrial disputes. In effect, this would be taking us back in time to the 1970s—a time when workers were pitted against one another. Often, that led to greater discord and disharmony for all, but particularly for the ordinary working person, who had difficulty sustaining their livelihood.

Again, this is partisan legislation and it is just not right. Our new clause is designed to ensure that agency workers would not be brought in. It states that a business

“shall not introduce or supply a work-seeker to a hirer to perform…the duties normally performed by a worker who is taking part in a strike or other industrial action…or…the duties normally performed by any other worker employed by the hirer and who is assigned by the hirer to perform the duties normally performed by the first worker”.

The new clause is designed to give the everyday worker in public services the same rights as others. It would give them the ability to engage in right and proper action as a last resort when they have to but not have their causes undermined. As we have heard, the public do not want that and it would also potentially undermine safety. I therefore look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

The new clause enjoys the support of the Labour party, and I would be happy to add my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Wallasey and for Edinburgh South to it formally. As described by the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, the new clause would insert into the Bill a ban on the supply of agency workers during industrial action.

The Government are planning to remove the ban through regulations. It seems they have been undertaking a consultation. Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 prohibits agencies from knowingly supplying agency workers to replace striking workers. The change that we understand the Government are planning to bring forward will enable employers to bring in agency workers with a view to breaking strikes, regardless of the consequences for health and safety, which the hon. Lady has gone through in some detail.

We have heard from many witnesses throughout this Committee, both in the oral evidence sessions and more recently via written evidence. It is also important to look at the evidence that many organisations submitted to the Government’s consultation, much of which has been made available publicly. I will touch on a few parts of that evidence that I think are very pertinent.

In the oral evidence, the Government called a witness from an organisation called 2020 Health to support their Bill, but the witness seemed unable to confirm or was unaware that trade unions are required to provide life and limb cover. The Royal College of Midwives gave evidence. When it took strike action in October 2013, the RCM and its local representatives worked with hospitals to ensure that services were still available to women in need of essential care, such as those in labour. In light of that, many will rightly ask whether the provisions on agency workers are necessary.

Recruiters are wary of using temps and agency workers as strike-breakers. Kate Shoesmith, who is head of policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which has more than 3,500 corporate members, said:

“We are not convinced that putting agencies and temporary workers into the middle of difficult industrial relations situations is a good idea for agencies, workers or their clients.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which we have commented on many times, represents more than 140,000 members working across the public and private sectors. It warned that the Government’s plans to reform trade union laws are “an outdated response” given the challenges faced today.

Frances O'Grady, the TUC general secretary, spoke of the practical problems with the proposal. She said:

“We have very good relations and agreements with agencies and the federation representing agencies in this country. We have always worked very closely on the fair principles of employers needing flexibility to cover peaks and troughs in production, or staff absences, and doing that on the basis of equal treatment within the framework of the union agreement. This proposal is obviously quite different. We are potentially talking about employers having the right to replace wholesale workers who have democratically voted to go on strike with, potentially, untrained and inexperienced agency workers.”––[Official Report, Trade Union Public Bill Committee, 15 October 2015; c. 148, Q383.]

I also want to refer to the TUC’s response to the Department’s consultation, which said:

“Ciett, the International Confederation of Private Employment Agencies, has issued a Code of Conduct which prohibits the supply of agency workers during strikes…The Memorandum of Understanding between Ciett Corporate Members and Uni Global Union on Temporary Agency Work, which was signed by several UK agencies in 2008, prohibits ‘the replacement of striking workers by temporary agency workers without prejudice to national legislation or practices.’”

The TUC makes clear in its evidence that

“the ban on the supply of agency workers to replace strikers has been in place for more than 30 years and is an established part of UK industrial relations practice.”

We heard some striking examples from the hon. Lady, and I want to emphasise my similar concerns, particularly over transport and railways and so on. The TUC points to how:

“Agency cleaners recruited to work in food factories may not have received the requisite safety training relating to handling chemicals or cleaning products.”

That places the safety of customers, let alone that of the agency workers, at risk. There were also concerns about the potential for tensions to be created around migrant workers and all the issues surrounding that, which we have already discussed at different points.

Most people have a great deal of concern about many of the circumstances we have discussed where agency workers could be brought in. The evidence is pretty damning and the Government should be embarrassed that they are trying to force the measures through, despite the chorus of opposition to them.

As I have argued throughout our consideration of the Bill, any one of the clauses on its own is bad enough, but the cumulative impact is worse still. The Government’s apparent proposals on agency workers, alongside clause 7, imply that the extended notice period is being introduced to give employers additional time to organise agency workers to undermine industrial action, as well as to prepare for the legal challenges that I think will inevitably result from the Bill. We are firmly opposed to the removal of the ban on the supply of agency workers during strikes, which will make it easier for employers to break strikes or undermine their effectiveness.

The Opposition believe that the measures would be bad for safety and for service users. Because they could serve to prolong or worsen industrial action, they would be bad for the general public too. It is certainly not a model for modern industrial relations. If our colleagues choose to press the amendment to a vote, they will enjoy our full and hearty support.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

By seeking to enshrine in primary legislation the current ban in regulations on employment businesses supplying temporary workers to cover the duties of striking workers, as well as extend the ban to hiring or engaging such workers through an employment agency, the amendment seeks to pre-empt the outcome of the Government’s response to the consultation on agency workers, the purpose of which was to understand the impact of revoking regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003, thus making it lawful to hire agency workers to cover striking workers.

I entirely respect and understand that Opposition Members have many principled objections to the proposal. There will be another opportunity to debate the merits of the proposal after the Government have responded to the consultation, if we decide to proceed with removing the regulations. The removal of the regulations—I might be anticipating the hon. Gentleman’s question—will be done by affirmative resolution, which requires a debate in both Houses of Parliament. I humbly suggest that now is not the time to anticipate the Government’s response to the consultation.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Clearly we are attempting to pre-empt in this case, because we have serious concerns. The Minister rightly points out that the Government have not yet responded to the consultation. As we have seen throughout the process, we do not have the Government responses to consultation that one would think we would have had before getting to this stage of the Bill. Can he outline what percentage or number of the responses received to the consultation so far have been in favour of the Government’s intentions, and how many have been implacably opposed, as our new clause is?

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

The hon. Gentleman does not just want to anticipate the publication of the response to the consultation and the Government’s decision whether to proceed with removing the ban; he wants to anticipate the contents of the response to the consultation by asking what the responses were. I am afraid that he will have to wait until we publish the response. There were numerous responses to the consultation, which closed in September, from a wide range of respondents, including businesses, schools, local authorities, emergency services and trade unions and their members, and we are analysing those responses. We will consider all representations made, and will publish a Government response in due course.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Scottish National Party, Glasgow South West

The Minister is right that we are trying to pre-empt it. Does he not recognise the concern that some of us have? In some places, agency workers have been used during industrial action. The current law is weak in trying to stop that, and we are trying to improve the situation. Does he recognise that?

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

I certainly recognise that the Opposition feel strongly about that position, and I have absolutely no doubt that they will return with these or similar clauses, and certainly with similar arguments, should the Government decide to pursue a change in the regulations banning the use of agency workers. However, I do not want to pre-empt the Government’s position, because we have not yet decided how we will respond to the consultation. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice)

Although I find the Minister extremely eloquent with an appearance of moderation, as I have done throughout, I must say that the SNP find it disingenuous. We wish to put safety, public opinion and the ordinary worker at the fore. I therefore urge the Committee to support the new clause.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 10.

Division number 50 Decision Time — New Clause 12 - Industrial action and agency workers

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

On a point of order, I want to take this opportunity, if you will allow me, Sir Edward, to thank a number of people for the conduct of proceedings during this line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill. It has been a very fulsome and forthright debate, but conducted with good humour and respect, which is always important. I thank the Minister for his good humour despite being under significant pressure. He has had a tough gig with this, having been put in this position by some of his more sinister colleagues—as I once described them—not, perhaps, sitting in this Room, but maybe in the dark recesses of the Cabinet Office and elsewhere. He knows who I mean.

More seriously, I am sure that we will come back to many issues on Report that we are not satisfied with the Government’s position on and we will continue to oppose the Bill at every stage. I thank you, Sir Edward, and your fellow Chair, Sir Alan, for excellent chairing and good humour. I thank the Clerks, in particular Glenn McKee and Fergus Reid, who have provided excellent support. It is always a tough job for an Opposition to hold a Government to scrutiny and it is important that we have the support of the apparatus of the House of Commons in doing so. I also thank Hansard and the doorkeepers, especially for the numerous votes when we have forced them to go out and shout about in the corridor.

I thank my colleagues on this side of the Committee. It has been good to work alongside our colleagues from the SNP on many aspects of the Bill. There is much which divides our parties, but there is much that unites us on this issue. I thank, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East, who has whipped the Bill, for her support at all times with all the procedure. On that note, high thanks to all and I look forward to joining the debate when we return in the Chamber.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

On a further point of order, Sir Edward, I, too, want to thank you for your chairmanship of our proceedings and for enabling us to ensure that we have a full complement on the Government Benches at all stages of the Bill, despite some of our attempts to make it hard for you to achieve that. I also thank the Clerks, the doorkeepers and everybody who has supported us in these deliberations.

I hope it will not blight the career of the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth if I say that he has conducted opposition to the Bill with exemplary precision and persistence. I am very much awed by the superb support of the Rolls-Royce that is the civil service in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The hon. Gentleman has to rely on a little help from trade unions and other interested parties, but mainly on the superb work of the Clerks. He has done an admirable job which has demonstrated the support of the Clerks.

I hope that the entire Committee agrees that we have given the Bill a proper going over and the fact that we are concluding proceedings a little before time—we have until 5 o’clock this evening—shows that a full and proper consideration of all the provisions in the Bill has been achieved.

I, too, thank the hon. Members from the Scottish National party. I particularly enjoyed that way that the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, in concluding, offered me a bouquet and then slid a blade between my ribs without so much as a heartbeat or a pause for breath. Finally, I thank the Hansard reporters for reporting what I have said accurately—unless I said stupid things, in which case they always seem to improve what I say.

On that basis, I thank Committee members from both sides for their contributions to the debate.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

It is my pleasure to thank you, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Sir Alan and myself. We both found the Committee most enjoyable. Obviously feelings  run high, but you have all conducted yourself brilliantly: the Minister, the Opposition spokesman, the Opposition Whip, even the Government Whip—[ Interruption. ] I love teasing him. I love him really; he is a great man. Perhaps he is one of these sinister forces we hear so much about. Seriously though, it has been a good Bill. The fact that we have finished only an hour early shows, as the Minister said, that we have given it a good going over. We have done our job and held the Government to account. All Committee members should be proud of their efforts.

Does anyone want to say anything more?

Chris Stephens rose—

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Oh, we must have a last word from the SNP.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Scottish National Party, Glasgow South West

This was my first Bill Committee and it has been a most interesting experience. In any event, I have come to the conclusion that it is no way to run a country. In future, consideration should be given to having more evidence sessions, because some of them were crammed in. I am just putting that out there in general terms as the views of a new Member on proceedings.

I thank you, Sir Edward, and Sir Alan. You have both been very encouraging and explained the processes as they arose. I thank the Clerks, who have been very helpful and talked us through tabling amendments. I agree that we have tried to maintain good humour; I tried myself with cultural references to “Star Wars”, “Game of Thrones” and, I think, “Rainbow” in one instance. I thank all Committee members. The Labour Members have done themselves proud in providing opposition to the Bill, while the Conservative Members have tried to justify it as best they can. I look forward to continuing the debate on Report.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

On these happy occasions I always feel like I am at a count—I feel like I should thank the returning officer and the policemen. Thank you for all being so fraternal in the best traditions of our trade union movement.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

TUB 36 Chair of North East Regional Employers’ Organisation

TUB 37 Professor Keith Ewing - further submission

TUB 38 UNISON - further submission

TUB 39 Cllr Julian Bell, Leader, Ealing Council

TUB 40 Directors of Workforce & Organisational Development, NHS Wales

TUB 41 The Law Society of Scotland

TUB 42 Tom Flanagan Consulting

TUB 43 Sara Ogilvie, Policy Officer, Liberty

TUB 44 Dave Godson & Alan Duffell, Joint Chairs of East Midlands Social Partnership Forum

TUB 45 Councillor Dee Martin

TUB 46 Councillor Barrie Grunewald - Leader of the Council, St Helens Council

TUB 47 Councillor Tony Newman

TUB 48 GMB - further submission

TUB 49 Councillor Alan Rhodes

TUB 50 TUC – further submission

TUB 51 Cllr Doug Taylor, Leader of the Council, Enfield Council

TUB 52 Fire Brigade Union

TUB 53 John Hannett, General Secretary, Usdaw

TUB 54 Cllr Anthony Hunt, Deputy Leader at Torfaen County Borough Council

TUB 55 Cllr Jennifer Mein, Leader of Lancashire County Council

TUB 56 Dusty Amroliwala, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of East London

TUB 57 Cllr David Perry, Leader of Harrow Council

TUB 58a Letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

TUB 58b Letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

TUB 58c Letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

TUB 58d Letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

TUB 58e Letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

TUB 58f Letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

TUB 58g Letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills