New safeguards for staff switching to private sector

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Public-sector workers will be offered new pension and employment protection if they are moved to the private sector, union leaders will be told today.

Public-sector workers will be offered new pension and employment protection if they are moved to the private sector, union leaders will be told today.

Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, will unveil a series of reforms to regulations protecting staff in a concession to unions angry about increasing private-sector involvement in schools and hospitals. They include guarantees on pension rights and new regulations putting into law guidelines governing the transfer of staff to private-sector employers.

The proposals, to be outlined at the TUC conference in Brighton, represent progress on a vital issue for public- service unions. Government sources insisted the announcement was not linked to disputes over private-sector involvement in public services.

Union leaders have been demanding reform of the so-called transfer of undertakings and protection of employment legislation to give staff greater protection if they are transferred. The proposals include measures to guarantee pension rights when workers transfer between firms. At present they have no such guarantee.

National guidelines governing the transfer of staff from the public to private sector will also be strengthened. A consultation document will propose forcing employers to reveal salary details and information about the jobs of staff transferring between firms, a measure designed to prevent rival companies transferring unqualified staff, increasing the risk that they will be made redundant.

Ms Hewitt is expected to say: "The Government recognises that the existing regulations are not working as well as they might do. Employers and employees, contractors and clients have all been pressing for change. The new proposals will provide greater assurance for employees and help to ease the process of change."

Disputes about staff who lose benefits when they are transferred from local authorities and other public-service employers to commercial firms have been a source of concern for union leaders.

John Monks, the TUC general secretary, warned that public-sector workers were "fed up" being moved from employer to employer.

He said: "I have been talking to representatives of the refuse collectors in Brighton. They have had four contractors in the past six years and they have had four different pension schemes, and they are fed up and I don't blame them."

He told BBC Radio 4: "One of the things that we are looking for the Government to do quite quickly ... is to protect the public-sector workers wherever they work so that already quite low-paid workers, hospital porters and people like that, do not find themselves even worse off because they find themselves working for a private-sector contractor."

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