'The threat of agency labour and the threat of more restrictions doesn't really worry us that much'
The government would be "suppressing human rights" if it were to change the law to allow firms to bring in agency workers to minimise strike disruption, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has told ITV News.
The union leader was responding to a question about whether this week's industrial action could accelerate the government's manifesto pledge to deliver such a law change.
On Tuesday, the first of three days of planned strike action across the rail network, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said ministers were looking to make policy "to ensure that the law is firmly on the passengers side.".
He told Sky News: “What we will do in the future is we’ll make sure we’ve put in some additional protections in place for the travelling public... That would mean on a day like today a certain level of service would still have to be run and through changes to allow for transferable workers, that’s a much quicker change we could take.
"One of the ways is through transferable skills, or agency workers, as you call it."
But responding to the suggestion, union leader Mr Lynch told ITV News: "That would be a suppression of human rights".
"Every person in the world under the international labour organisation conventions, which is a UN type body, has the right to withdraw their labour and withhold their labour through lawful strike action.
"We comply with all the laws," he said - accusing the Conservative government of making "constant revisions to the anti-trade union laws, from 1979 up until now".
"The threat of agency labour and the threat of more restrictions doesn't really worry us that much," the union leader added.
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He accused Mr Shapps of being "detached from the reality of running a massive national railway".
The government on Tuesday prepared the public to be braced for more chaos on the railways.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned commuters they must be ready to "stay the course" and urged rail bosses and unions to agree on a package to safeguard the future of the industry.
The PM told Cabinet that, without fundamental changes to the way the system operates, rail firms risk going bust and passengers face ever-higher prices that could ultimately lead to them abandoning train travel.