Politics: TUC push for union rights

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UNION leaders will tonight begin their final round of talks to persuade ministers to deliver the Labour Party's manifesto commitment to a law enforcing union recognition, writes Barrie Clement.

A team led by John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, will meet Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, and express their concerns over barriers they believe may be erected in the way of union representation. Mr Monks yesterday told a special executive meeting of the TUC that he was optimistic about the White Paper, which will contain clauses on union recognition, but there were still areas which "remain difficult". Union leaders fear the Government is seriously considering a proposal by the Confederation of British Industry to exclude small firms from the proposed law. Employers have asked ministers to frame legislation so that organisations employing fewer than 50 people are not involved.

The TUC leader will tell Mrs Beckett and Ian McCartney, Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry, that such a proposal would mean that 8 million British workers would be denied their rights. In a briefing after the TUC executive, Mr Monks said that to ignore small firms would be to exclude a disproportionately large number of women, people from ethnic backgrounds and youngsters from the law. It would also exclude unions from the vital areas of health and safety where some of the "worst conditions are to be found in small firms."