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Unions demanded measures to try to stop companies closing British factories while keeping open their European plants.

Unions demanded measures to try to stop companies closing British factories while keeping open their European plants.

Delegates to the TUC conference unanimously passed a motion yesterday calling for workers to be given stronger employment rights.

It said: "It is easier, quicker and cheaper for companies to close UK factories and make British workers redundant" than on the Continent, and called for Britain to come into line with European law.

Delegates expressed dismay at the lack of international competitiveness in many parts of the British economy. Danny Carrigan, national manufacturing officer for the Amicus union, said firms "all too often treat their workforce with disdain rather than dignity" in contrast to social partnership on the Continent.

Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, acknowledged in the past ministers had given the impression that manufacturing industry was not important. She told a fringe meeting: "We know that is rubbish ... manufacturing is central to our future as a high-wage, high-skill knowledge economy."

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