Unions and bosses fall out as social partnership talks fail

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Confidential documents reveal that the first attempt at "social partnership" under a Labour government has hit severe problems on the controversial issue of union recognition.

On the eve of the TUC's annual congress in Brighton, the papers show that a dialogue between Congress House and the CBI and prompted by the Prime Minister, has run into trouble.

John Monks ,TUC general secretary, yesterday conceded publicly that a deal between unions and employers on the shape of legislation promised by the Government was unlikely.

The documents seen by the TUC's ruling general council illustrate the CBI's lack of enthusiasm for a law which would enforce recognition where half the employees wanted it.

Tony Blair, who will be addressing delegates tomorrow has told Mr Monks that the unions had "some persuading to do" as far as the CBI was concerned. The concept of social partnership between unions and management has drawn particular support from ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry, but the policy seems to be falling at the first fence because of traditional attitudes.

Such disagreements sit uneasily with the "Partners For Progress" theme at the congress which will be attended by 15 ministers.

Representatives of the CBI have told TUC officials that there should be a "threshold of membership" before a union could submit a claim for recognition to the proposed Representation Agency which would adjudicate.

Officials from Congress House disagreed saying that while the agency should have the power to reject "frivolous" claims an initial test of membership would add another stage of bureaucracy to the process. Unions also reiterated their feeling that where union membership stood at 50 per cent, recognition rights should be automatic and there should be "no separate test of opinion".

Despite Mr Monk's pessimism, the document says that while the CBI had "reservations" about Labour's manifesto commitment to statutory rights on recognition, they were proceeding on the basis that there would be a White Paper and legislation in the 1998-99 Parliament.

A poll by the TUC showed that employment rights sought by unions was backed by 74 per cent of the population. Mr Monks made it clear that the movement would take action against those who were denying employee rights and he singled out seven companies, including Railtrack and Dixons, the electrical retailer, where unions claimed to have more than 50 per cent of the employees in membership, but where recognition was denied.