Unions tell Blair to deliver on recognition

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The Independent Online
UNION leaders last night said they were confident that the Government would keep its side of the bargain and deliver a workable law on union recognition.

Despite deep concern in the labour movement that the Prime Minister was leaning towards helping employers, John Monks, TUC General Secretary is today expected to give an "upbeat" account of discussions on the issue.

Union sources said, however, that there were still issues to be resolved and that there would be a further meeting tomorrow with Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, and more discussions with Tony Blair.

Mr Monks led an eight strong delegation of union leaders at talks with Mr Blair in Downing Street yesterday, but union and government sources said the session was routine and had been arranged for some time.

The TUC said both sides had acknowledged at the outset of the hour-long meeting that recognition was not on the agenda. Union officials said the "good-natured" discussions had centred on the issues of social partnership in Europe, the New Deal programme for the young jobless and the whole Welfare to Work strategy adopted by the Government.

TUC officials said they were confident that the Fairness at Work White Paper, which would set out the Government's intentions on recognition, would be published late next month or early in May. The TUC plans a special conference to discuss the contents of the document on 6 May, but insisted it had received no official call for a reconvened Congress, as suggested by some senior trade unionists.

The White Paper, particularly the clauses on union recognition, will form a defining moment in the historic relationship between the Labour Party and the unions which founded it. Some trade unionists will argue for a withdrawal of financial backing from the party if the document comes down too far on the side of the employers.

One of the key points on the subject of recognition will be the rules surrounding ballots among employees. Some ministers have been arguing for a threshold of participation in such ballots of between 50 and 70 per cent.

Some trade unionists are also concerned that the Government will allow the employers to decide the workplace constituencies for such votes making it difficult for unions to win representation.

While most union leaders kept their own counsel, Tony Young, Joint General Secretary of the Communication Workers' Union, warned of a "significant reaction" from the union movement if the Government did not provide a satisfactory solution.

Ian Davidson, leader of the trade union group of MPs, said that the vast majority of his colleagues saw Fairness at Work as one of the most important manifest commitments.

"We went to the electorate on a clear unequivocal indication that [there was] going to be fairness at work, that we were going to be providing legislation for recognition.

"Now the vast majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party do not want to see that watered down by any sort of fudge or compromise or trimming."

John Hougham, chairman of conciliation service Acas, urged ministers to be "precise" over its proposals for recognition law.