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Plan to change agency staff rules a ‘hasty and hostile approach’ to trade unions

Employment minister Richard Lochhead said the move shows a ‘hasty and hostile approach to industrial relations’ (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)
Employment minister Richard Lochhead said the move shows a ‘hasty and hostile approach to industrial relations’ (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Plans from the UK Government to allow employers to replace striking workers with agency staff shows a “hasty and hostile approach to industrial relations”, Scotland’s employment minister has said.

In a letter to minister for small business Paul Scully, Richard Lochhead accused Westminster of “anti-trade unionism”, which the Scottish Government “utterly deprecates”.

Under the current trade union laws, employment businesses are restricted from providing temporary agency workers to cover for striking employees.

The UK Government is seeking to change these rules in order to plug staffing gaps and mitigate the impact of industrial action.

“The Scottish Government believes that we should respect workers across our economy; we should respect public sector workers; and we should seek to negotiate fair resolutions to disputes, particularly at a time of soaring inflation that has been so exacerbated in the UK by the folly of Brexit,” Mr Lochhead wrote.

He added: “Scotland, as you know, has embraced the concept of fair work – it is disheartening to see our own progressive activity in this regard being put at risk by association with the UK Government’s ill-thought-out, hasty and hostile approach to industrial relations.

“It is the long-standing position of the Scottish Government that a progressive approach to industrial relations along with greater – not fewer – protections for workers is at the heart of a fairer, more successful society.

“These changes are a direct contradiction to our position, and as such, we will oppose them.

“This is another example of why we need full control over employment powers and levers – so that the Scottish Parliament is able to set the legislative framework for the labour market in 21st century Scotland.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The Government makes 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.

“Allowing businesses to supply skilled agency workers to plug staffing gaps does not mandate employment businesses to do this, rather this legislation gives employers more freedom to find trained staff in the face of strike action if they choose to.”