MPs approve controversial plans to let agency workers cover for striking staff

Ministers have approved controversial plans to allow agency workers to replace striking workers, voting through the regulations on Monday night by 289 votes to 202.

While the business minister, Jane Hunt, said the change, which was accelerated as a result of the ongoing rail strikes, was needed to remove the “outdated blanket ban” on using agency workers to cover official industrial action, critics say the measure is akin to a “scab charter”.

Hunt told the Commons: “Some trade unions appear to us to be looking to create maximum disruption in a bid to stay relevant rather than constructively seeking agreement with employers and avoid conflict.”

The TUC had urged MPs to vote against the “pernicious anti-union measures”, which were deplored as “anti-business and anti-worker” by Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner.

“They will risk public safety, rip up workers’ rights, and encourage the very worst practices. And above all they will not prevent strikes, they will provoke them,” said Rayner.

Hunt denied safety concerns, and said these changes will not affect the right to strike.

The Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke voted against the plans, arguing that they diminish the intended impact of industrial action.

“If people are going to lose their ability to have an effect when they withdraw their labour, then I am afraid they have effectively lost the ability to withdraw their labour,” the Elmet and Rothwell MP said.

This was the first time Shelbrooke had voted against the government since being elected in 2010.

The Labour MP Ian Byrne said the government should be voting to protect workers’ rights, rather than introducing a “scab charter for bad employers”.

This change comes hours after further strike action was confirmed, this time involving drivers at eight train companies who are preparing to walk out over pay.

Though agency workers can now replace strikers, questions remain over the numbers of spare teachers, nurses and train drivers who can step in as replacements.

With both the National Education Union and NASUWT threatening strike action in the autumn term, the Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis offered to return to the classroom should those threats materialise.

Separately, a Labour motion to annul regulations to increase the level of damages a court can award in the case of unlawful strike action was defeated by 290 votes to 201.