Labour is urged to back collective bargaining law

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Labour Editor

The TUC yesterday put pressure on the Labour Party to back a law which could force reluctant employers to recognise unions for collective bargaining.

In what was seen as the most important resolution to be passed at the TUC Congress in Brighton this week, delegates overwhelmingly endorsed a radical plan to give unions legal backing in the workplace.

Under the proposals everyone would have the right to be represented by a union official and where union members constituted 10 per cent of a workforce they would have the right to a "collective voice" and consultation.

Potentially the most controversial proposition, however, was that employers would be forced to establish collective bargaining over pay and conditions where the majority of workers wanted it. The process would be overseen by an official representation agency.

While this is current Labour policy, party aides have embarked on a review of the proposal, partly in consultation with employers. The plan came under immediate fire from ministers. Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, said it gave unions "sweeping new rights" and would return Britain to the industrial turmoil of the 1970s.

Introducing a TUC report on the issue, Bill Morris, leader of the Transport & General Workers' Union and a member of the TUC's ruling general council, said the document was the most important to be delivered to congress for decades.

"This report is about reclaiming the territory which is the right of trades unions to speak for and represent their members in and out of the work place. On day one of this report becoming law we say goodbye to derecognition."

Mr Morris said the era of a voluntary system of industrial relations had been buried by employers. The report Your Voice at Work - which was the theme of this year's congress - combined the best traditions of British collective bargaining with new rights under European law. The proposals would win widespread support, he said.

The TUC document, however, came under fire from some unions who argued that the proposals could encourage employers to withdraw recognition from unions where they could not command a majority in a "bargaining unit".

John Foster, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said companies may define bargaining units in such a way that it would be impossible for unions to claim majority support. He gave the example of Reuter, the wire service company, which recognises unions even though they only represent around a third of the employees. If the company decided to define the bargaining unit as the whole workforce then they would have the right to withdraw recognition, even though more than 80 per cent of journalists were in the union.

Mr Foster, together with the actor, Tony Robinson, speaking on behalf of Equity, argued that unions should have collective rights however small the membership in a workplace.

t Congress backed a resolution calling for the TUC to "re-establish trade union rights" at Mirror Group Newspapers, which owns 43 per cent of the Independent. John Monks, TUC leader, said there would be no more campaigns with the group until the problems had been resolved. A similar motion has been submitted to next month's Labour Party conference.