Labour tells firms to recognise unions

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The Independent Online
Despite its public stance of keeping trade unionists at arm's length, the Government is forcing companies to recognise unions, confidential documents reveal. Barrie Clement, Labour Editor, discovers that Old Labour lives on.

Businesses hoping to run hospitals under the Government's Private Finance Initiative have been told that they must recognise the unions. Even companies like IBM, which is determinedly non-union have been left in no doubt as to what is expected of them.

Department of Health officials have told union representatives that companies will have to abide by key standards over employee relations, including union recognition. A memorandum of a meeting last November in Whitehall says: "Individual [NHS] trusts who departed significantly from the standard would be unlikely to obtain approval of their business cases."

The policy on union recognition has emerged in discussions to establish a privately financed hospital at Barnet, north London, run by a consortium which includes IBM. The computer giant, through its recently acquired subsidiary Data Sciences, will be running the hospital's information technology and medical records system.

Initially the company pointed to its non-union policy, but has been told to sign a deal with Unison, the public service union, by next Tuesday or risk losing its contract.

In a letter to the union, Alan Milburn, minister of health, said: "I can assure you that I take very seriously indeed the question of trade union recognition where staff transfer from the NHS to the private sector as part of the PFI deal."

The Department of Health's initiative will make the obligation to recognise unions difficult to escape.