Labour abandons promises on strikers' rights

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The Independent Online
The Labour Party faces a storm of criticism from its big union affiliates after abandoning commitments on employment rights and adopting further swathes of Conservative legislation.

Labour has ditched its pledges to liberalise the laws on secondary strike action and to give strikers the right to reinstatement - as well as abandoning its pledge to protect workers from unfair dismissal from "day one" of starting a job.

The party seemed to be moving towards a policy which would give protection after a year's employment rather than the present two years. Under previous Labour governments the period was six months, but Tony Blair is known to be sensitive to business concerns about increased legal burdens.

A key policy paper published today also proposes keeping laws on strike ballots which insist that there must be seven days' notice of stoppages; that the action must take place within 28 days of the vote and that unions must give the names of all strikers to employers. Such provisions have come under severe criticism from the International Labour Organisation, part of the United Nations.

The new document, Building Prosperity, published by David Blunkett, Labour's education and employment spokesman, proposes no change to the present situation, which is that workers are not allowed to strike - or picket - in support of another group of workers unless they work for the same employer.

The document drops the promise of protection from unfair dismissal from "day one" of starting a new job given by the late John Smith to the TUC in 1993. Instead it says only that it will review the "whole question of the procedures of industrial tribunals", in order to see how they can be speeded up.

The document promises only to extend protection from unfair dismissal to strikers engaging in lawful industrial action. This replaces a previous commitment to give strikers the right to their jobs back, or to be compensated.

Unions registered their satisfaction at the document's promise that union recognition would be granted where a majority of the workforce vote for it. There will also be legislation to stop victimisation of union members, and to end age discrimination.