TUC battles on over union recognition

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UNION leaders registered their determination to campaign against a critical part of a radical white paper on employees' rights to be published today.

While welcoming the general thrust of the document, which proposes the introduction of a series of important new rights in the workplace, the inner circle of the Trades Union Congress yesterday decided to continue its fight against Government proposals on union recognition.

In particular, the TUC executive opted to prosecute its battle against Downing Street over the insistence that 40 per cent of any workplace must back the introduction of collective bargaining, not just a simple majority of those voting in a ballot.

Employees' representatives will also campaign against a proposal to exempt all organisations employing fewer than 20 employees from the proposed legislation on recognition.

The one union leader to distance himself from the TUC's stance was Ken Jackson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, who expressed his "100 per cent backing" for the package of proposals.

The "fairness at work" white paper will mark an historic departure from the policies of previous successive Conservative governments, but will propose a relatively tough test before union recognition wins the backing of the law.

As a gesture towards "Old Labour" critics, however, it envisages that the 40 per cent formula should be reviewed after two years. Significantly, it is expected that the percentage figure will not be included in legislation but in supporting regulations, which can be changed without a full-scale parliamentary debate.

Another "sweetener" is expected to be that where an employer insists on a ballot, the company must foot half the bill.

Unions and dissident backbench Labour MPs will also welcome a concession whereby recognition will be "automatic" where more than half of a workforce are union members.

Mr Jackson said the recognition debate was now over and there was no point in the TUC campaigning for something that was not achievable.

But John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union, said the campaign over the 40 per cent formula would "go on and on".