Union crusade rewarded as Cook lifts GCHQ ban

After a 13-year crusade by the labour movement and civil rights groups, the Government yesterday told staff at the GCHQ spy centre that they were once more free to join independent unions.

Announcing the end of the union ban, Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, also signalled the beginning of talks to ensure that agreement could be reached with unions to prevent disruption at the complex.

While trade unionists will be keen to ensure that the formula is not a simple "no-strike deal" - anathema to most orthodox trade unionists - Mr Cook will be anxious to reach an accord to prevent any interruption of essential operations.

The news was greeted by prolonged cheers yesterday at the annual conference of the PTC civil service union in Blackpool, attended by some of the 14 workers who had been dismissed for refusing to give up their union membership.

As part of the impending negotiations there will also be the thorny issue of compensation for the "refuseniks", some of whom have been out of work for more than a decade. Those who stayed at the centre, but rejoined the union, are seeking recognition of the fact that they were deprived of pay increases and "fined" pounds 2,000 over two years for their recalcitrance.

In a statement, the Foreign Secretary said the decision to reintroduce trade unionism was part of the Government's commitment to "open and fair" relations at work and that it would "right a long-standing wrong".

All the refuseniks below normal retirement age will now be free to apply for jobs at the Cheltenham-based complex. Each case would be treated "sympathetically", Mr Cook said.

The Foreign Secretary declared: "GCHQ staff make a valuable contribution to protecting the liberties and freedom of our country. Today's move enables them to share fully in one of the important liberties that they defend."

John Monks, TUC general secretary, said the the ban had been a blot on Britain's reputation for democracy and human rights. "The previous government's belief that free trade unionism compromised national security was always an unjustified slur against the trade union movement and GCHQ staff in particular."

Clive Lloyd, 56, a former communications officer, said they had been expecting the announcement, but still felt overwhelmed: "Labour has kept its promise and I can't wait to walk through the gates again after spending so much time fighting to get my job back."

Baroness Thatcher, the then Prime Minister, introduced the prohibition in 1984 after civil service pay strikes spread to the centre in the early 1980s. The National Security Agency of the USA expressed concern about the industrial action and Sir Brian Tovey, director of GCHQ between 1978 and 1983, asked for the ban. Sir John Nott, who was defence secretary in 1984, said however, that the industrial action had "not in any way affected operational capability".

In his statement yesterday, Mr Cook said the present rules which outlawed industrial action would remain in place until a new deal could be completed.

"Talks with unions will begin as soon as possible to settle future arrangements for staff representation and to secure a collective agreement on no disruption to the work of GCHQ which will ensure that GCHQ's operations are protected from any threat of industrial action."

About 45 per cent of staff at GCHQ have joined the Government Communications Staff Federation, which has been refused a certificate as a bona fide union by the official Certification Officer. The federation however is now expected to merge with the PTC union.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor