Hunt tries to build link with unions on jobs

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Indy Politics
DAVID HUNT will today try to establish a strategic partnership with unions amid considerable scepticism within the labour movement.

Mr Hunt, Secretary of State for Employment, will speak at a conference on full employment - the first Conservative Cabinet minister to address a meeting sponsored by the TUC in living memory.

He will indicate that the Government is determined to change the taxation and benefits system so that it pays people to work rather than stay on benefits. This carrot, however, will be balanced with the stick of the Job Seeker's Allowance based on a tougher 'availability for work' test for the unemployed.

The general secretaries of two of the biggest TUC affiliates, the Transport and General Workers' Union and the GMB general union, are boycotting proceedings at Congress House, but both expressed some satisfaction that ministers were now 'paying lip service' to the goal of full employment.

John Prescott, Labour's employment spokesman, is known to be furious over the policy of rapprochement with ministers introduced by John Monks, the TUC general secretary. Labour politicians argue that Mr Hunt is attempting to steal their political clothes by professing a commitment to full employment.

Left-wing demonstrators are expected to lobby today's conference and an alternative meeting with a similar theme has been arranged by London trades union councils.

A spokesman for the T&G said the union did not support the policy of giving a platform to Cabinet ministers. 'Mr Hunt is coming along to lecture the victims of unemployment on how to respond to the problems the Government itself caused.'

The GMB's annual congress endorsed a resolution strongly critical of any invitation by the TUC to Cabinet ministers to speak. The union argues that the labour movement should not be giving succour to the Tories.

Another prominent speaker at the TUC event will be Howard Davies, director general of the CBI, who will encounter criticism from unions for his speech to the TUC annual congress in 1992 which presaged a freeze on public sector pay bills.

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