Unions see chance of power

A CONFIDENTIAL Trades Union Congress memorandum privately concedes that the recent White Paper on employment rights presents a "once in a generation opportunity" to win more power for trade unions.

While adopting a far more cautious line in public, Congress House argues that the document forms an historic advance for workers' rights.

The tone of the internal paper, which gives an initial assessment by the TUC's ruling General Council, marks a considerable contrast with highly critical statements made by leaders of some of the biggest unions. The one senior figure to give his unequivocal backing has been Ken Jackson, general secretary of the AEEU.

The TUC memo attacks the Government's insistence on a 40 per cent "yes" vote among workers deciding on union recognition - not just a simple majority of those voting - and it urges ministers to rethink the exclusion of firms with fewer than 20 employees from the recognition law.

Nonetheless, the paper, which will be considered today by the General Council, describes as "very welcome" proposals on how bargaining units should be defined, asserting that it approximates with the TUC's own position. Also "very welcome" was the decision that recognition should be automatic where a union commands majority membership. American trade unionists, who believe their own legislation on the issue is largely unworkable, argue that the 50 per cent membership trigger was the most important concession from the Blair administration.

Union officials also believe that the right of individuals to be represented by an official at all British companies, regardless of size, was also a highly significant breakthrough.