Blair will tell the TUC to modernise

Unions at Congress seeking legalisation of secondary action and greater employment protection
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Indy Politics
Tony Blair today becomes the first prime minister for 19 years to address the TUC Congress. He does so amid demands that the Government go much further on union rights and after complaints from one of his ministers about public expenditure policy.

Delegates to the conference in Brighton unanimously urged the legalisation of secondary action and full protection from the first day of employment.

At a fringe meeting Michael Meacher, the environment minister, declared that he was "in considerable difficulties" coping with the Tory spending limits accepted by the Government and said that some areas were "crying out" for extra expenditure.

In a keynote address to the conference, Tony Dubbins, President of the TUC, insisted that Unions were not "asking for anything revolutionary," but the Prime Minister will feel considerable unease about the demands made yesterday by trade unions.

Mr Blair has registered his determination to keep most of the employment laws introduced by the previous government, including its ban on supportive strikes by one group of workers for another.

The Prime Minister's speech today is expected to call on unions to "modernise" and enhance their members' contribution to the economy through training rather than by relying on industrial muscle to improve their lot.

Supporting the motion for employment rights from the first day of work, John Edmonds, General Secretary of the GMB general union, said he "shivered a little" when he heard members of the Labour Government using words such as "flexibility' beloved of erstwhile Conservative ministers.

He said protection "from the first minute of the first day of the first week of employment" was a hallmark of a civilised society. Labour has abandoned such a pledge made by John Smith.

In his main speech John Monks, the TUC's General Secretary, invoked the name of Diana, Princess of Wales. He said trade unionists should attempt to capture something of the public mood generated by her death. "I hope that her legacy will be the flowering of a new compassion and bring people together in rejecting rampant, uncaring individualism," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Meacher said that ministers were having to work with "the tightest spending controls in living memory" and he called the limits a "straightjacket".

He said officials were preparing a law which would protect "whistle-blowers" who exposed employers for damaging the environment.

He said the Health and Safety Executive should be able to draw up a law by the end of the year, but legislation was unlikely until November 1998- 99. Those who exposed malpractice were putting their jobs at risk and should be protected from victimisation, he said.

The minister also announced the establishment of a TUC group on the environment to mirror an employers' committee already set up by the previous government.

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