THE UK Government has repealed a key trade union law which means businesses will now be able to pay agency workers to cross the picket line while strikes are underway.

Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union boss Mick Lynch dubbed the move “unethical, morally reprehensible and impractical”, adding that it was the government’s latest attempt to crack down on “democratic dissent”.

The RMT held a wave of strikes in June in a bitter dispute over pay and conditions, with more planned for July and August as workers demand pay rises in line with inflation.

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Strikes have also been held by Post Office workers and barristers in England over legal aid pay, while union members at BT and the Royal Mail recently voted to take industrial action.

This week’s below-inflation pay awards for public sector workers has also sparked strike warnings.

The Scottish Greens said the decision was a "disgraceful attack" from the UK Government on trade unions to "distract from its own catastrophic failings", and the Scottish Government said they were not consulted on the decision. 

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng would later boast on social media that the change meant what was a criminal offence is now an "opportunity for businesses". 

The UK Government’s press release claimed the law change would allow businesses to “fill vital staffing gaps” and that they “worked at speed” to make sure the trade union legislation was repealed.

The National: RMT boss Mick Lynch slammed the move by the UK governmentRMT boss Mick Lynch slammed the move by the UK government

The legislation will apply in Scotland, Wales and England, as employment law and industrial relations are reserved to Westminster. The new rules apply from Thursday 21 July.

Lynch said: “This is the latest step in a clampdown on democratic dissent which every trades unionist and democrat must oppose.

“The use of agency labour to break strikes is not only unethical and morally reprehensible, it is totally impracticable.

“Agency workers will not have the skill, training or relevant competences to drive a train, to do complex maintenance work on the track, to signal trains, or to do a whole host of safety-critical work on the network.

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“Instead of trying to reduce trade union rights which are already the worst in western Europe, the Government should be unshackling Network Rail and the train operating companies so we can secure a negotiated settlement on the railways.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Employment law remains reserved to the UK Government and these plans were not shared in advance with the Scottish Government.

“Maintaining a progressive approach to industrial relations - alongside ensuring workers have an effective voice, including through trades unions - is a priority for the Scottish Government."

Maggie Chapman, Scottish Greens MSP, blasted the UK Government's decision. 

She said: “This is a shocking change that will undermine workers’ rights and create serious safety risks for the public and workers.

The National: Barristers in England have been striking over legal aidBarristers in England have been striking over legal aid

"It is yet another disgraceful attack from a Tory government that is all too happy to scapegoat and demonise trade unions to distract from its own catastrophic failings.”

“Trade Unions are instrumental in securing better working conditions and rights for all of us.

"Minimum wage, paid holidays, weekends, better pay and conditions, these rights have been hard fought and won by organised, unionised workers.

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“Greens will do everything we can to defend workers’ rights here in Scotland, both within the powers available to the Scottish Parliament and as a cornerstone of our vision for independence. We will always stand in full solidarity with workers when their rights are so brazenly threatened.”

Kwarteng said that the decision was made in light of “militant trade union action” bringing public services to a standstill.

He added: “We have moved at speed to repeal these burdensome, 1970s-style restrictions.

The National: Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the government were determined to 'minimise the power of union bosses' Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the government were determined to 'minimise the power of union bosses'

“Businesses exposed to disruption caused by strike action will be able to tap into skilled, temporary workers to provide the services that allow honest, hard working people to get on with their lives.”

The business secretary later tweeted: "Today we changed the law to allow businesses impacted by strike action to hire skilled, temporary workers to mitigate disruption.

"This was a criminal offence. Now it’s an option for business. We will not let trade unions grind our economy to a halt."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps added that the rules will not come into force ahead of rail strikes planned for the last week in July, but said it was an important milestone in the government’s “determination to minimise the power of union bosses”.

He added: “For too long, unions have been able to hold the country to ransom with the threat of industrial action, but this vital reform means any future strikes will cause less disruption and allow hardworking people to continue with their day-to-day lives.”

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The UK government has also changed the law to raise the maximum damages that courts can award against a union when strike action has been found to be unlawful.

For the biggest unions, the maximum award will rise from £250,000 to £1 million.