Agency workers could be allowed to fill in for striking staff, under new plans put forward by the government.
It comes amid three days of major rail strikes – with passengers set to face more cancellations on Thursday and Saturday.
Under current trade union laws, employment businesses are restricted from supplying temporary agency workers to cover for strikes.
The legislation will repeal “burdensome legal restrictions” to allow businesses to hire temporary agency staff at short notice to cover essential roles for the duration of the strike, the government said.
It gave examples of skilled temporary workers being able to fill vacant positions, such as train dispatchers.
Subject to parliamentary approval, the changes are made through a statutory instrument and are set to come into force in the coming weeks and will apply across England, Scotland and Wales.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Once again trade unions are holding the country to ransom by grinding crucial public services and businesses to a halt. The situation we are in is not sustainable.
“Repealing these 1970s-era restrictions will give businesses freedom to access fully skilled staff at speed, all while allowing people to get on with their lives uninterrupted to help keep the economy ticking.”
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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Despite the best efforts of militant union leaders to bring our country to a standstill, it’s clear this week’s strikes did not have the desired impact due to more people being able to work from home. However, far too many hard-working families and businesses were unfairly affected by union’s refusal to modernise.
“Reforms such as this legislation are vital and will ensure any future strikes will cause even less disruption and allow adaptable, flexible, fully skilled staff to continue working throughout.”
The government also announced it would raise the maximum damages courts can award against a union when strike action has been found to be unlawful from £250,000 to £1m.
Labour criticised the plans saying they risked public safety.
Deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “This is a recipe for disaster, not just undermining pay and working conditions, but risking public safety and ripping up ministers’ own words.
“The government appear to have learned nothing from the P&O scandal, which resulted in multiple safety failures and the grounding of vessels.
“The idea this could solve the travel chaos they have created is just more Tory fantasy in place of real solutions.
“It’s no wonder business leaders oppose it as much as trade unions do. It’s just another Tory tactic to inflame more disputes in the country they should be leading, not dividing.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government should be getting people around the table to find a fair resolution to this rail dispute.
“But ministers are more interested in cynically picking a fight with unions than reaching a negotiated settlement.
“Having slammed P&O for replacing experienced workers with agency staff, Grant Shapps is using the same playbook.
“These plans are a deliberate attempt to undermine the right to strike and to reduce workers’ bargaining power.
“Bringing in less qualified agency staff to deliver important services will endanger public safety, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations.
“Unions and the agency recruitment industry have both warned ministers these plans are unworkable.”