Unions may have to pay compensation

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The Independent Online
If Ian Lang is to be taken seriously, the Government is considering the introduction of a law which would weaken trade unionism to a far greater extent than any legislation introduced since the Conservatives came to power in 1979.

By removing immunities from unions engaged in public- sector strikes, the Government would make it virtually impossible for them to lead or to organise industrial action among five million public-sector employees, and would set the collective rights of workers back a hundred years.

Ministers have divined that the industrial action on the London Underground and at the Royal Mail may have prepared the electorate for the toughest employment legislation contemplated in peace time. It seems increasingly likely that such proposals could be included in the Conservative manifesto, but legislation is unlikely before an election.

Under the proposals, the Communication Workers' Union would be sued by companies which lost business through the present postal dispute. Both the rail unions - Aslef and RMT - would also be liable to legal action for damages incurred through the Tube stoppages.

Mr Lang acknowledges the potentially vast - even limitless - liabilities involved by suggesting immunities might be removed or "reduced".

If unions refused to pay damages - or if they continued to back industrial action - then their assets could be sequestrated by the courts, and their organisational structure would simply cease to exist.

Defiance of the law in the 1980s reduced the National Union of Mineworkers and the print union NGA - among the most powerful unions in the land - to penury.