With journalists keen to predict a ‘summer of discontent’, 2022 has thrown up a real dilemma for the Government. When it comes to large-scale industrial relations disputes, with whom should they side? The employers or the workers?
Siding with the workers?
No doubt you will recall the furore earlier this year when P&O summarily dismissed almost 800 of its employees. The government was quick to condemn the company's actions and ministers threatened to hold P&O (and its management) accountable for their actions.
From what we can tell, little has happened since then. However, in a recent Parliamentary debate in the House of Lords, a minister from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy indicated that the government still intends to issue a new statutory code aimed at establishing best practice in this area, especially when it comes the phenomenon of so-called ‘fire and rehire’. A draft code is expected during the course of the summer, with a proposal that it should come into force as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Siding with employers?
Despite appearing to side with the workers in relation to the P&O dispute, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the government has taken a rather different tack in relation to strike action by the RMT union, which has caused considerable disruption to our transport network.
In response to the threat of further industrial action, the Government is proposing to change the law and effectively repeal a long-standing restriction on the capacity of employment agencies to provide agency staff to cover the duties of striking workers. For the first time in decades, employers will be able to ‘break’ strikes by recruiting agency workers. Those agency workers can either (i) perform the duties of the striking workers themselves or (ii) backfill vacancies created as a consequence of employers using their own employees to cover those duties.
Getting it right?
Do you think the Government is getting it right when it comes to these big industrial disputes? Would you make the same calls? We’re interested to hear your thoughts.