Spies seek to come out of the cold on job rights to claim unfair dismissal

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The Independent Online
James Bond and other spies need employment rights, too, the Prime Minister has been told in an official report from Lord Justice Stuart- Smith, Commissioner for the Intelligence Services.

Tony Blair yesterday presented the commissioner's report to Parliament, along with the judge's verdict that urgent action was required to deal with spies' employment grievances.

Under the law, people working for the three spy agencies - the Security Service, MI5; the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6; and Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, the intelligence community's eavesdroppers - are prohibited from having access to industrial tribunals. When an employee tries to go to an industrial tribunal with a case of unfair dismissal or other employment grievance, the Home Secretary or Foreign Secretary signs a certificate to ban any hearing taking place for "reasons of national security".

One review has already taken place on the policy, and a corner of the blanket ban has already been lifted. "For example," the commissioner told Mr Blair, "access to industrial tribunals cannot now be denied to agency staff in sex discrimination cases." In those cases, industrial tribunal hearings take place in camera.

But the security and intelligence services have persuaded the Intelligence Services Tribunal that it should hear other cases.

That has been done under the very limited and inappropriate terms of its powers - which were "never intended to cover the handling of complaints from members of the agencies about unfair dismissal".

The president of the Intelligence Services Tribunal and the commissioner have now asked Mr Blair "at the earliest opportunity" to consider giving the tribunal the same powers as an industrial tribunal in cases of unfair dismissal.

They want power "to consider the merits of the case and hold an adversarial hearing with legal representation", along with power to give reasons for the tribunal's decisions and to be able to offer remedies other than straightforward compensation.