Labour set to cool on workers' rights

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The Independent Online
In the teeth of union opposition Labour is expected to water down its commitment to give employees the right to appeal against unfair dismissal.

While party leaders recently backed a law to give protection to workers from "day one", Labour working parties are set to amend the policy.

Faced with arguments that the industrial tribunal system could not cope with all the claims, Labour is likely to revert to a system where employees will have to work for six months before qualifying.

In a keynote speech at the GMB general union's annual conference in Blackpool yesterday, John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, cut out a reference to awarding rights from the first day of employment. He later said that nothing should be read into the omission, but senior party figures are known to favour the six-month option.

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB, declared that he would strongly oppose any attempt to tone down Labour's policy. "It would mean employers like Burger King would start using five-month contracts and if the statutory period was a month it would come down to three weeks," he said yesterday.

"If an employer takes someone on as an employee then that should immediately confer rights on that particular employee."

He said that the policy stipulating immediate protection had not been rescinded and the arguments in favour of it were "overwhelming".

Meanwhile leaders of "new Labour" were warned yesterday not to go over the heads of the big unions in forging relationships with employers.

Mr Edmonds said unions should provide the link between the party and industry. Labour's ideas of social partnership was "not just an ideal for the future", it was already a reality for the GMB. He said unions provided a "gateway for employers to talk to and understand the Labour Party's plans for the world of work".