The Queen's Speech: Industrial Relations - Union recognition rules presage battles

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THE BRIEF reference to government plans for "fairness at work" masks the vicious private battles that have been taking place over compulsory union recognition.

Unions insist that the proposals should not be watered down, but employers are keen that safeguards are introduced to the Fairness at Work Bill to ensure that recognition should be granted only where support from the workforce is long-standing and overwhelming.

The address referred to ministers' keenness to work in partnership with business and it welcomed improved relations between employers and unions, "who are working together in informing the Government's proposals for fairness at work".

In fact, the two sides of industry have been at daggers drawn over a plan to award automatic recognition where more than half a workforce are union members.

Under pressure from the Confederation of British Industry, the Downing Street Policy Unit has urged that workers should be members of a union for at least 12 months before they are counted towards recognition.

Unions argued, however, that there should not be two classes of union members, and that such an amendment would render the law useless because of labour turnover, and the possibility that employers would persuade workers to leave unions, or dismiss trade unionists.

Unions believe they havesuccessfully resisted the idea of a two- tier membership, but they may have lost another battle. The Fairness at Work White Paper, published earlier this year, suggested that the upper limit on the amount of compensation for unfair dismissal be removed. After representation from employers' leaders, however, the present pounds 12,000 cap is likely to be increased to pounds 40,000 or pounds 50,000.