Employment and trade union rights

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2013 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2013

Conference is angry at the Coalition government’s continued attacks on individual and trade union employment rights that have been stepped up this year and calls on the National Executive Council to lead a campaign to reverse policies that have laid waste to our economy, our public services and the living standards of our members since May 2010.

Conference therefore condemns this economic strategy that pretends to be a growth strategy as it will increase unemployment and casualised work, lower living standards, set back equality and increase poverty.

Conference rejects the ideologically driven notion of so called “red-tape regulation” and the accompanying Con Dem policy of “one-in-two-out”, which leaves workers’ safety and living standards unregulated and unprotected.

Conference calls for the repeal of Con Dem attacks on protections against unfair dismissal including the extension of the qualifying period from one year to two; the concept of Protected Conversations and no-fault dismissals; the sale of rights for shares, the weakening of protection for whistleblowers and the reduction in redundancy consultation periods from 90 to 45 days.

In terms of access to justice, Conference calls for the removal of Con Dem restrictions including the massive cuts in legal aid, the introduction of fees for Employment Tribunal (ET) cases, the caps on compensation awards, the extension of costs and the changes to ET procedures which will see more judges sitting alone, more compulsory arbitration prior to ET cases and fewer powers for an ET to make wider recommendations in response to discrimination cases.

Conference also recognises the government’s continued parallel assault on the health and safety regulatory system, including:

1) cuts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authority budgets resulting in the continued reduction in the number of workplace inspections;

2) the dumbing down of HSE advice, guidance and Approved Codes of Practice;

3) ill thought out legislative proposals such as the removal of the ability of an employee to enforce a civil claim for workplace injury on the grounds of a breach of workplace regulations, and of the removal of the self employed from the scope of health and safety legislation.

Conference also calls for the “self employed” and so called “low risk industries” to be reintegrated into the regulatory and inspection system.

In relation to equality issues, Conference calls for a damage-reduction review of the Equality Act to ensure that the original Parliamentary purposes behind the Act – including the socio-economic duty, the third party harassment provisions, equality impact assessments and the Public Sector Equality Duty – are restored following Con Dem attacks aimed at undermining equality provisions.

Conference is without doubt that all these measures are designed to weaken workers rights and increase the power of employers, weaken collective bargaining and the share of national wealth that goes to workers, and turn back the clock on advances in workplace health and safety.

Conference believes that the trade union voice at work would be significantly strengthened if a future Labour government took active steps to improve the recognition procedures and strengthen collective bargaining coverage.

Current recognition procedures are inadequate, they fail to meet international standards as outlined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Committee of Experts and they allow companies like News International and Virgin to use sweetheart arrangements and unfair labour practices to undermine independent trade unions.

Conference therefore calls for the repeal of the recognition procedures to ensure that:

a) small companies are no longer excluded from the statutory provisions;

b) non-independent bodies cannot be used to block recognition requests and only independent trade unions (as certified by the Certification Officer) can be recognised by employers;

c) the Unfair Labour Practices clause should be extended to prevent employers using such tactics before the ballot process begins and during derecognition campaigns;

d) unions who fail to win 51% support of the whole workforce should still be able to represent, and negotiate for, their own members;

e) issues covered by a recognition agreement should be extended to include pensions, training and equality.

Recognition of a trade union voice in the workplace should be reinforced by the introduction of sectoral bargaining structures at national level. Such a move would assist in extending the benefits of collective bargaining to vulnerable workers, ensuring a living wage safety net and removing the race to the bottom encouraged by fragmented bargaining within and across sectors.

Conference welcomes the TUC and Trade Union Labour Organisation (TULO) campaigning in defence of our employment rights and the 12,000 strong petition delivered at Christmas by Ian Murray MP, shadow employment rights minister. Furthermore, Conference welcomes UNISON and the Institute of Employment Rights putting together a Coalition time line of all attacks since 2010 and help bringing together a united union voice. Furthermore Conference supports the new Campaign for Trade Union Freedom launched in March 2013, a result of a merger of the United Campaign to Repeal the Anti-Union Laws and the Liaison Committee to Defend Trade Unions.

Conference records that it is the rights based on European Union directives that the coalition cannot strip away so easily and believes that a workers voice must be heard in the European Union debate. Regardless of this, the Coalition Government is intent on weakening the UK Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment (TUPE) regulations by taking out the 2006 service provision changes.

Conference is clear that this will make it easier to privatise public services through a cost cutting procurement process, increase uncertainty for staff and make litigation more likely.

Conference salutes our workplace stewards and representatives fighting cuts and fighting for employment rights, fairness and dignity at work. It is therefore not a surprise to Conference that trade union facility time is under attack from the Coalition in all sectors and that the template in cutting civil service facility time in 2012 will be copied elsewhere.

Conference believes that employment rights are human rights, good for the economy and a sign of a healthy society and that unions are a force for tackling inequality and therefore calls on the National Executive Council to:

i) continue to campaign against and publicise the systematic Coalition attack on employment and trade union rights;

ii) link the attack on employment rights to the Coalitions austerity, cuts, inequality and privatisation agenda;

iii) consider how the union can best respond to changes in the tribunal system requiring fee payment;

iv) support the European Public Services Union (EPSU), TUC, STUC, WTUC and ICTU in their campaigns to defend employment rights;

v) continue to work with the Institute of Employment Rights;

vi) work with the political funds to influence UK politicians of all parties in favour of rights at work;

vii) work with the political funds to prepare a plan to influence the political parties contesting the 2014 European Parliament elections so that workers rights are promoted and protected;

viii) work in partnership with the TUC, HAZARDS, other trade unions, its partners in Europe through the ETUC and EPSU, charities and pressure groups to combat the government’s reckless attacks on health and safety.

Conference believes that such a programme of reform would be electorally popular, socially just and economically productive and urges the National Executive Council to work with others – to develop these ideas into a framework of fair employment practices for future implementation.