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Previously, Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 precluded agencies from supplying temporary workers to fill duties by employees who are taking part in strikes. The Regulations did not, however, prevent employers from employing individuals directly on a fixed-term basis to cover the duties of striking employees.

The new legislation gives businesses impacted by strike action the freedom to utilise employment businesses who can provide skilled, temporary agency staff at short notice to temporarily cover essential roles for the duration of the strike. While the new legislation is currently subject to parliamentary approval, it is set to come into force by mid-July and will apply across England, Scotland and Wales.

The aim of the change is to minimise the impact of strike action on important public services, and thus avoid severe disruption to the UK economy and society.

The intention is to give employers greater flexibility, however it will still be necessary for businesses to comply with broader health and safety rules that keep both employees and the public safe. It would be their responsibility to hire cover workers with the necessary skills and/or qualifications to meet those obligations. This will be of particular importance when looking to cover safety-critical roles, which has been an issue during the recent train strikes.

It may also help mitigate against the impact of future strikes by allowing trained, temporary workers to carry out crucial roles to reduce the impact on the general public and the economy. For example, strikes in public services such as education can often mean parents have to stay at home with their children rather than go to work, or rail sector strikes stopping commuters getting to work or to other businesses.

The Government has also announced that it intends to increase the maximum damages that courts can award against a union, when strike action has been found to be unlawful. The caps on damages, which have been stagnant since 1982, will be increased, and for the biggest unions, the maximum award will rise from £250,000 to £1 million.

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