Employers' leaders queued up last night to denounce union demands for more rights including the freedom to take solidarity action in support of strikers.
Calls from leaders of Britain's biggest unions for a radical revision of labour law were "politically inspired'' and, if implemented, would lead to another "winter of discontent'' during which much of industry would come to a standstill, employers representatives warned.
The row means that Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, could face a torrid time today when he addresses delegates at the TUC annual conference in Brighton.
Mr Jones recently led an employer delegation to No 10 at which the Prime Minister was urged not to extend workers' rights. Bob Crow, the hard-left leader of the RMT rail union, pointed out to conference delegates yesterday that while employers such as Brian Souter of Stagecoach were allowed to bus in "scabs'' to break strikes, workers were not allowed to take secondary action to stop such activities.
Mr Crow, who intends to boycott the address by Mr Jones, said: "I don't want to listen to an employers' representative telling [us] how hard it is to make profits and how the unions have got to change.''
Delegates unanimously passed a motion calling for change to labour legislation, including full rights from the first day of employment.
The RMT general secretary said that it was unfair that employees had to work a full year for protection. "If you pay tax from day one, if you pay national insurance from day one, then why should you not be entitled to workers' rights from day one as well?" he said.
Proposing the resolution Tony Dubbins, general secretary of the print union GPMU, warned ministers that a failure to address such issues could have consequences at the polls. "We must ensure that this Labour Government understands that if they want the support of working people at the next election, they have got to demonstrate that they are determined to implement real fairness at work," he said.
Susan Anderson, director of human resources policy at the CBI, said yesterday that she thought that the kind of demands included in the TUC's resolution had been "consigned to the dustbin of industrial relations history''. She said calls for the legalisation of secondary action were "politically motivated''. She added: "This is political posturing by trade union leaders who are out of touch.''
Ruth Lea, head of policy at the Institute of Directors, said the demands constituted a "throwback'' to the 1970s. She added: "You can almost see a winter of discontent emerging before your very eyes. No wonder the private sector is less welcoming to unions.''
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