Wales politics

Bid to keep agency worker cover ban in strikes in Welsh public sector

Trade union Image copyright Reuters

Rules stopping employers from using agency workers to cover strikers will be protected in the public sector under Welsh Government plans.

A UK Government consultation was held on changing the rules in 2015 but the idea has not been put into action.

Now Welsh ministers want to amend the Trade Union Bill to prevent any rule changes applying to Welsh public services.

Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies said the bill was "payback" for the unions.

Currently employment regulations prevent firms and organisations from providing agency workers to cover the duties performed by an employee on strike.

UK ministers consulted in 2015 on removing the regulation, saying it was committed to tackling the "disproportionate impact of strikes in important public services".

The Welsh Government now wants to add protections to the Trade Union Bill - currently passing through the assembly - that would stop agency workers being used in the Welsh public sector if the regulation was lifted.

Image caption Mark Drakeford said the changes would maintain the current legal position

Local Government Secretary Mark Drakeford said: "Although the UK Government has yet to enact legislation on agency workers, we have taken the necessary steps to ensure that, if they choose to do so, devolved public services would remain unaffected and that the current legal position would remain the same."

The Trade Union Bill is intended to ensure restrictions making it harder to call strikes, brought in by the UK Government's Trade Union Act, will not apply to Welsh public services.

Welsh ministers have said the UK Government may try to overturn the proposed law, and Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said it will "act at the earliest opportunity" to ensure the legislation "protects the interest of taxpayers and our public services in Wales".

'Massive inconvenience'

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said when a strike is called in "key public services" it "massively" inconveniences "vulnerable people that depend on those services".

Saying the bill was "payback time" for the unions, he added: "I believe this is payback time for underwriting the costs of the general election now and the assembly election last year."

Plaid Cymru's local government spokeswoman, Sian Gwenllian, said her party would support "this precautionary move".

But she added: "Because of Labour's support for the power grab that was the latest Wales Act, uncertainty still hangs over whether this bill is even legal."

A spokesman for the Welsh Liberal Democrats said the party welcomed the amendment brought forward by Welsh Government "as a means to protecting all workers and ensuring constructive engagement between unions and government".

UKIP's local government spokesman in the National Assembly for Wales, Gareth Bennett, said: "We welcome moves to protect worker's rights, but the UK Government have already made it quite clear that they intend to legislate to snatch back powers to Westminster if this Bill is enacted".

"Although we agree with the spirit behind the Trade Union (Wales) Bill, it will be lawyers at the Supreme Court who will benefit, and not hard working public sector staff in Wales who won't be fooled by Tory and Labour political ping-pong."

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