Review rejects union demands

2003

The Government faces a fresh clash with unions after rejecting calls to improve workers' employment rights. Their review of the Employment Relations Act published on February 27 had rejected all the unions’ key demands.

Alan Johnson, the Employment Relations Minister said that the current legislation was working well. “With the success of this law, a new culture at work is emerging. Employers and unions are working together,” he said.

One of the unions’ key demands is that employers with less than 21 staff should no longer be exempt from statutory union recognition.

Up to five million people were affected by the 21-worker threshold and most of these were low-paid employees, said Derek Simpson, the joint general secretary of the Amicus union that represents more than 700000 workers across the UK. "The excluded workers are the most vulnerable to exploitation in Britain. Without the protection of a union they face low pay and long hours in dangerous workplaces."

"20% of the working people in this country are employed in companies with less than 21 staff," added Roger Lyons of Amicus. "Refusing to include them now is slap in the face for millions of workers."

The review rejected calls for fresh protection against being sacked after being on lawful strike for eight weeks. There is also no change to the requirement for 40 per cent of employees to vote in favour of union recognition.

However the review did signal that union demands for a new legal right for workers to access union services and earlier access rights to workplaces for unions in recognition cases would be met.

Employers groups welcomed the tone of the review. John Cridland, deputy director general of the CBI, said: "Employers will breathe a sigh of relief if the Government has not caved in to union pressure and gone for a wholesale review. It would be deeply damaging if ministers tore up an agreement that is currently working well."