Managers disown their union rights

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MIDDLE managers have voted overwhelmingly to forfeit union rights in return for compensation of up to pounds 1,800 offered by the US-owned Caterpillar group, the world's biggest manufacturer of earth-moving equipment.

In the first case of its kind, about 80 per cent of supervisors at the company's Leicestershire plant voted to accept an initial pounds 500 lump sum for relinquishing the right to collective representation.

They will also gain membership of a profit-sharing scheme which management has indicated could yield an additional 14 per cent of salary. For supervisors that could give an extra pounds 1,300 on average.

About 150 clerical workers and technicians are also being balloted and unions expect that the plant's 450 hourly paid workers will be offered a similar deal. Where there is a majority in favour, the scheme will be introduced for all the employees concerned.

Caterpillar is the first company to take advantage of a last-minute amendment to the latest employment Act, which came into force at the end of August, that allows companies to discriminate against trade unionists by paying them less.

A senior national official of Manufacturing Science Finance, the union which represents middle managers at the plant, said the scheme looked like 'a straightforward bribe'.

A 'consultation' committee will also be set up to replace the normal bargaining machinery which included union representatives.

The company is regarded as 'non-union' at its Illinois plant in the US after management introduced new strategies following a strike by 12,000 workers two years ago.

The company said the move was 'part of an ongoing strategy to expand employee involvement in business opportunities, planning and decision-making'.

Caterpillar insisted that any decision to relinquish union rights by employees was entirely voluntary.