Union advice centres to help non-members

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

IN A RADICAL return to the Labour movement's friendly society roots, one of Britain's biggest unions is to open advice centres throughout the country to non-members.

The weekly 'surgeries', staffed by up to three officials of the Transport and General Workers' Union at restructured branch offices, are to be set up in response to a growing demand for advice which accelerated during the recession, the union said.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the union, said yesterday that the centres would offer debt counselling, advice on repossessions and legal information. Local officials have been inundated with pleas for help, especially from the unemployed, many of whom also need advice to negotiate their way through the benefits system. The network, which will buy-in services where necessary, is not intended to replace Citizens' Advice Bureaux, but complement them.

Mr Morris denies the strategy has been forced on the TGWU by an erosion of its traditional functions through the withdrawal of recognition and the closure of industrial plants. 'Collective bargaining in the workplace is our bread and butter. There will be no shift from that.'

The plan is part of Mr Morris's 'big vision trade unionism' and has emerged at a time when the unions are searching for a new method of addressing the needs of ordinary people.