Nurses fear loss of working rights

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UP TO 85,000 nurses will be denied key employment rights under government proposals, according to the Royal College of Nursing. The recent "Fairness at Work" White Paper means that the college will be unable to represent fully the vast majority of nurses working for GPs and those at nursing and residential homes. These represent more than a quarter of the RCN's membership.

The moderate RCN, which is non-TUC and politically unaligned, also believes the Government is offering insufficient protection for nurses who are unfairly dismissed.

In a submission to ministers, the college, which operates both as a union and a professional association, points out that it will be unable to gain recognition on behalf of a large number of employees because a proposed law excludes all staff working for organisations with 20 or fewer workers.

In alliance with the TUC the college urges ministers to extend the right of trade-union recognition to all employees, regardless of the size of the organisation for which they work.

The RCN is faced with a growing number of small employers, many of them in the private sector, leading to a reduction in its influence on employee rights and the standard of patient care.

The college calculates that the great majority of Britain's 18,000 GP- practice nurses, some 51,000 in nursing homes and 16,500 in residential units, are in organisations with 20 or fewer employees. Officials at the RCN believe that staff in 5,400 nursing and residential homes will be denied the right to collective representation.

"The RCN believes that nurses who happen to work for small employers should not be denied the right to be represented by the trade union of their choice."

The document submitted to the Government also argues that ministers should reduce the qualifying period for protection against unfair dismissal to six months. The White Paper proposes cutting the current period of two years to one year.

"The RCN is aware of many instances of employers, in particular nursing- home managers and independent acute hospitals and some instances of GPs, dismissing nurses unfairly just before the qualifying period has been achieved."

The college said that dismissal should be fairly based irrespective of how long the individual had been employed.

While the Government intends to include pay, working time and holidays as part of the statutory collective bargaining agenda, it is consulting on a proposal to include training. The RCN registers its strong belief that statutory recognition should also include bargaining on staff development.