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Unions are winning the battle for recognition

COMPANIES are increasingly willing to recognise unions as ministers press ahead with plans for a law to boost employees' rights, the Trades Union Congress has found.

Workers' leaders report a substantial rise in the number of union recognition agreements over the past six months, covering an extra 70,000 employees.

The figures were published after a two-hour late night meeting on the issue of union rights between ministers and union leaders on Wednesday night. Employees' representatives were left with the impression that the Government would be attempting to steer a middle course between the aspirations of unions and the concerns of employers in framing legislation.

The TUC wants recognition to be granted when backed by more than half of those voting in a ballot. The Confederation of British Industry argues it should be more than half of the total workforce. A mandatory 50 to 60 per cent participation rate in any ballot is likely to form the compromise.

It is understood that while the Department of Trade and Industry has formed its views on the proposed legislation, the White Paper "Fairness at Work", which will contain the proposals, requires the attention of the Prime Minister who has been preoccupied with the peace talks in Northern Ireland.

The latest TUC Trade Union Trends calculates that recognition deals are currently outpacing instances of "derecognition" by 45 to one.

John Monks, TUC general secretary, said the data suggested that the "mere presence" of the law would encourage more voluntary agreements and that statutory procedures would only need to be used in a minority of cases.

It is known that companies in a wide range of industries are reassessing their attitude to unions ahead of the publication of the White Paper. Many businesses, however, will wait to see the detail of the plans before committing themselves to a system of collective bargaining.

The CBI contended that few companies were making moves on the issue because legislation was still some time away.

The TUC report said that 40 per cent of unions reported securing new recognition deals within the past six months, compared to only 24 per cent in the previous half year.

t The Government was yesterday urged to introduce fresh legislation on behalf of 900,000 temporary workers after a Court of Appeal judgment cast considerable doubt on the rights of employees on fixed term contracts.

The court ruled that although production assistant Kelly Phillips had worked more than the statutory two years for the BBC, she had no right to claim unfair dismissal. Ms Phillips had signed "waiver clauses" in four separate consecutive contracts and therefore did not qualify for protection under the law.

Stephen Cavalier, of solicitors Thompsons, described the judgment as "stunning" and said it flew in the face of other rulings. He said that Ms Phillips, with the backing of television production union Bectu, would appeal to the House of Lords.