Employment: Labour left fears gap in unions Bill

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The Independent Online
LABOUR BACKBENCHERS called for safeguards to workers' rights in small companies yesterday, criticising the Government's decision to exclude them from legislation to make union recognition compulsory.

Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover, challenged ministers over their decision to include a cut-off point for firms with less than 20 employees under the Employment Relations Bill.

Speaking during the Bill's second reading debate, Mr Skinner warned that there were large numbers of firms which had already granted recognition to various trade unions in workforces of under 20 which may now change their policy.

"One of the dangers that can arise is that some of these firms might well say because there is a cut-off point, and I have got 18 employees, therefore I will abide by the law that says I don't have to accept trade union recognition..."

But while Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, acknowledged the "disappointment", he said the legislation did not discourage voluntary recognition.

Mr Byers stressed the Government did not want to impose an undue burden on business. He said: "This is, we believe, a reasonable and balanced package... the Government has taken the view that it's reasonable to have a cut-off."

Under the Bill, unions will gain automatic recognition if they have more than 50 per cent in a bargaining unit in companies where the workforce is bigger than 20. The measures would boost the trade union movement because workers would now see a reason for joining, Mr Byers said.

"At long last, in 1999, we will ensure that no one can be blacklisted simply because they belong to a trade union or are prepared to defend and represent the interests of their colleagues at work. This Bill will replace the policy of conflict between employers and employees with one of partnership.

"Some steps were needed to curb the worst of trade union excesses and these measures will be retained," he said.

John Redwood, the Tory spokesman on trade and industry, attacked the Bill. He said that it would "jeopardise employment" and "endanger the successful legacy of good industrial relations left by the last Government".

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