TUC warns Blair not to backtrack on employment rights deal

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The Prime Minister was warned yesterday that any attempt to renege on a radical deal to boost employment rights would be hugely damaging to Labour's relations with its main financial backers.

The Prime Minister was warned yesterday that any attempt to renege on a radical deal to boost employment rights would be hugely damaging to Labour's relations with its main financial backers.

Amid growing union concern about the Government's commitment to the agreement, Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, told Tony Blair not to treat it as a "pre-election stitch-up" to be cast aside at his convenience.

Mr Barber urged the Prime Minister to register his personal enthusiasm for the deal in a keynote address he is expected to deliver at the TUC's annual congress on Monday.

Mr Barber said: "The key policy challenge for the Prime Minister and other ministers is to demonstrate real commitment to the workplace agenda; to speak about it with real passion; to demonstrate that this does not represent a pre-election stitch-up but a genuine commitment to find a better deal for people at work." He added: "If the commitments are not carried out, it would be hugely damaging."

Mr Barber said he would be reading the election manifesto "with interest" to ensure it reflected the understanding.

After months of meetings, the deal was finally thrashed out at a meeting of Labour's national policy forum at Warwick University in July in an attempt to avoid a political bloodbath at the TUC conference and the subsequent Labour conference. It was struck to ensure that the unions stump up the cash for the election campaign.

Among the concessions was a commitment to end the "two-tier" workforce - where businesses taking over public services honour the terms and conditions of existing employees but not for new recruits. Unions say Mr Blair reneged on a pledge in 2002 to end the two-tier workforce.

Mr Barber said the issue of pensions would be at the top of the congress agenda. As part of the Warwick accord, ministers agreed to consider forcing companies to contribute to workers' pension funds. Pensions could become a collective bargaining issue under union recognition legislation.

The Government also agreed that the eight days of bank holiday a year would no longer be counted towards the minimum entitlement of 20 days. The TUC leader said that while the Iraq war has damaged the Prime Minister's standing in the union movement, he expected Mr Blair to receive a "positive" reception from delegates with an election looming.

Mr Barber said: "We should celebrate the gains, but the day we stop being hungry for advance or stop trying to right wrongs would be the day the union movement died. We still have some huge unfairness in the world of work that remain to be removed, such as the near 20 per cent pay gap between men and women and examples of real exploitation."

Deep misgivings about Government policy has led to two major departures from the party - the RMT rail union and the Fire Brigades Union.

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