Rail strikes: Agency staff may be called to replace striking workers, warns Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps grilled about travel chaos in UK airports

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More than 40,000 staff at Network Rail and 13 train operators are expected to walk off the job, in what the union has described as the “biggest rail strike in modern history”. Grant Shapps said ministers were drawing up legal changes that could take effect “during this particular dispute”, to protect the public from being “held to ransom” by strikes, the Telegraph stated.

The planned changes are being worked on in addition to the Government’s plan to introduce separate laws requiring minimum numbers of rail staff to work during a strike, which were revealed by the broadsheet last month.

Mr Shapps is working with Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, whose officials are drawing up plans to remove a legal restriction introduced under Tony Blair that prevents employers hiring agency staff to carry out the work of staff on strike.

Mr Shapps said the measures “would come in during this particular dispute, if it can’t be resolved”.

It comes as the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ union prepares to strike on 21, 23, and 25 June in a dispute over pay and redundancies.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ (RMT) union has said it will “shut down” the country’s railway network on June 21, 23 and 25 after talks over pay and redundancies fell through – in what union leaders say will amount to the “biggest rail strike in modern history”.

Ministers believe that repealing the law on agency staff filling in for striking workers would be a much quicker process because it would only require secondary legislation – regulations that can be signed off by ministers.

The restrictions are contained in the 2003 Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations.

Mr Shapps said: “I’ll be saying more about this. But we will be looking at the full suite of modernisation that’s required.

“The country must not continue to be held to ransom.

“These strikes are incredibly premature and we will use every possible lever to ensure that the public is protected in the future in particular.

“I can’t over-stress our determination to get the right outcome for the travelling public in the end on this, even if the unions insist on putting the country through considerable pain in the meantime.”

Mr Shapps added that the strike had “focused the spotlight” on generous pay for rail workers.

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He said: “It’s highlighted the fact that a train driver gets a median pay of £59,000, whereas a nurse’s median pay is £31,000.”

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