Engineers back Blair over union reform

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The Independent Online
TONY Blair has at last won the unequivocal endorsement of a senior union leader for his radical package of employment law reforms which are due to be published in the Fairness at Work White Paper this week.

Ken Jackson, moderate general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, yesterday broke ranks with his colleagues to register his "100 per cent backing" for the proposals, including those on the controversial issue of union recognition.

After encountering a solid wall of opposition to his plans, the Prime Minister will see Mr Jackson's endorsement as a critical breakthrough in his attempt to ensure that unions keep funding the Labour Party.

The engineering union leader was called into Downing Street separately last week in an attempt to secure his acceptance of the Government's position.

Mr Jackson told the Independent on Sunday that while some union leaders may harbour reservations over Mr Blair's insistence on stringent tests before a union can be granted collective bargaining rights in the workplace, the White Paper as a whole constituted an "historic breakthrough".

Mr Jackson is expected to face a barrage of criticism from other senior union figures at a meeting of the TUC executive this Wednesday for speaking out. He will however receive the fulsome support of John Monks, TUC general secretary.

Further criticism of the contents of the White Paper, and Mr Jackson's support of it, will emerge in a meeting of the national political forum of public service union Unison in Torquay this week. Rodney Bickerstaffe, leader of Unison, has made clear his opposition to the Government's proposals on recognition.

The White Paper, to be published this Thursday, will propose that unions must win the endorsement of 40 per cent of workers in the relevant "bargaining unit" before recognition rights receive the backing of the law. As a concession to union critics, the 40 per cent rule will be reviewed after two years.

Mr Blair has also dropped plans for a test of union membership before a recognition ballot could take place. The Prime Minister's more hawkish advisers wanted a minimum of 15 per cent membership.

Under the blueprint, unions will propose the boundaries of the "constituency" they wish to represent and employers will have a right of appeal to a revamped Central Arbitration Committee.

Union representatives will have the right to enter workplaces to inform and consult employees.