MPs vote to allow agency workers to cover striking nurses’ posts
Unions warn government move will undermine patient safety and is damaging to nurses’ right to strike as cost of living crisis drives threat of key worker action
MPs have approved controversial plans that would allow agency staff to replace nurses who go on strike, prompting outrage among nursing unions.
The unions warn the changes to regulations will put patient safety at risk and infringe nurses’ right to strike.
MPs voted in favour of legislation
Until now employment agencies were banned from supplying staff to replace workers taking part in industrial action.
There is concern the move will compromise agency nurses who are union members, should they be asked to cross picket lines.
RCN says change will put patients at risk
The RCN reacted angrily to the move, describing it as ‘deeply undemocratic and unsafe for patients’.
‘Any industrial action by our members is carefully planned to keep patients safe already – bringing in less qualified or agency workers instead could put patients at risk,’ said RCN director of employment relations and legal services Joanne Galbraith-Marten.
The law change, which will now go to the House of Lords, was accelerated by recent industrial action by rail workers and comes at a time of increasing threats of strikes by nurses and other key workers over pay.
Skills shortage may make it difficult to find enough agency workers
Unison has also raised safety concerns and said the change risks damaging relationships between health and care employers and staff.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: ‘With chronic skills shortages at the moment, it is difficult to see how the NHS could find enough agency workers to provide safe cover.’
Scottish National Party spokesperson for fair work and employment Chris Stephens said he feared it could put agency staff in ‘a horrible position’.
‘They would have to choose between crossing a picket line and turning down an assignment with the prospect of being denied future work by the agency,’ he told Monday’s parliamentary debate.
Government supports ‘greater flexibility’ for employers and employees
Business minister Jane Hunt said the government continued to support the right to strike, but this must be balanced with the rights of the wider public to get on with their daily lives.
‘Agency workers will still be able to decline any assignments they are offered and the right to strike is unaffected,’ she told the House of Commons.
‘This change is about giving employers and employees more freedom and flexibility to decide what works best for them.’
In other news