The issue of bosses using agency workers in an effort to replace strikers has come to the fore in recent disputes.
In fact, agencies aren’t allowed to supply workers specifically to cover work that isn’t being done because of lawful industrial action.
They can’t even supply workers to cover the work of a worker who is covering the duties of a colleague taking part in industrial action.
This is prohibited by Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003.
This doesn’t mean bosses won’t try such schemes. For example, in Doncaster this week the contractor Suez was caught out when one of the agencies it uses, Aim Recruit Ltd, had advertised for new workers.
This would be clearly illegal and Suez had to rush out a statement. “A recruitment advert was brought to our attention earlier this week,” it said.
“Although Suez was not directly named in the advert, it clearly creates the misleading impression that it was placed on Suez’s behalf. We will be investigating further and will take a robust approach to dealing with this issue.”
However, agency workers already in place as part of normal business can carry on as usual. And the law does not prevent firms employing temporary workers directly, or outsourcing work to an external provider.
This creates a legal “grey area” companies can try to exploit.
As always the key issue is the militancy of strikers, and the strength of workplace organisation.
For example, during the Barts health workers’ strike in London trade unionists occupied the offices of an agency that was supplying scab labour to outsourcing bosses Serco.
They shut its offices down and stopped it.
Some companies would like a free rein to use agencies to replace strikers. The Tories promised to allow this by getting rid of Regulation 7 yet never got beyond the consultation it ran in 2015.
The threatened changes to allow mass scabbing were quietly dropped.
Even where agency workers are already employed, it is not impossible to win them to supporting the strike.
This is what happened in the victorious bin strike in Birmingham.
Strong action, serious picketing and insisting bosses respect the law can beat the threat of agencies.