Minister explains new union laws
The government's "Fairness at
Work" white paper was described as the greatest extension of union
rights for more than 20 years.
While it was welcomed by union leaders, some were concerned that it did
not go far enough to dismantle some of the legislation introduced by the
previous Conservative governments.
The trade minister responsible, Ian McCartney, spoke to BBC News Online
about the government view of the changes.
The publication of "Fairness at Work", the new framework for
employment relations put forward by the government, is a landmark in the
history of employment relations, and holds out a real vision of co-operation,
not conflict in the workplace.
It is the latest in a series of measures aimed at modernising workplace
relations, which have been introduced since the general election on May 1,
That list also includes the reintroduction of trade union rights at GCHQ,
the signing of the social chapter, the introduction of the working time
directive and the introduction of a national minimum wage.
Where previous policies have allowed the worst "Arthur Daley"
employers to undercut competitors by exploiting their staff, Labour's agenda
for people at work aims both to provide decent minimum standards, and to
encourage partnership between employers and employees.
Unions an asset
Fairness at Work is a white paper the last government could never have
delivered, which learns the lessons of the best of British companies, where
unions are regarded as an asset rather than an enemy, and where developing
family friendly employment practices is recognised as being to the benefit of
the company as a whole.
Amongst the many proposals put forward in Fairness at Work, are making
funds available to help with training both managers and employee
representatives to develop partnerships at work, as well as new significant
extensions to rights to maternity and parental leave.
Whilst promoting best practices, our proposals are also aimed at providing
protection against the worst.
Under the Fairness at Work proposals the qualifying period for protection
against unfair dismissal will be halved from two years to one year; the
maximum limit on awards for unfair dismissal will be abolished;
discrimination on the grounds of union membership and the blacklisting of
trade unionists will be outlawed; and employees will have the legal right to
representation during grievance and disciplinary proceedings.
There will also be a right of appeal against dismissal for taking lawful
Recognising, as many employers do, the value of unions to successful
businesses, Fairness at Work contains not one, but three 'paths' to the
recognition of unions in the workplace.
Firstly, the white paper seeks to encourage voluntary recognition of
unions by employers, as partners in the workplace. Secondly, the white paper
outlines the procedure for a ballot of employees to gain recognition,
allowing for voluntary recognition to be granted at any stage in the process.
Finally, Fairness at Work proposes that there should be automatic union
recognition where more than half of the workforce are union members.
Fairness at Work is not a return to the past, nor should it be. It is a
blueprint for fairness in the workplace and the promotion of better, stronger
relationships between employers and employees.
The white paper offers opportunities which both trade unionists and
employers should grasp with both hands.