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EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS LAW TO BE MODERNISED

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A Bill that would encourage employers and employees to work together ...
A Bill that would encourage employers and employees to work together

and promote a 'no surprises culture' at work was introduced in the

House of Commons today. Employment relations minister, Gerry

Sutcliffe, also confirmed that the Bill will be amended to allow

unions to expel or exclude racist activists and others whose

political behaviour is incompatible with trade union membership.

The Bill, announced in the Queen's Speech last week, is the result of

an evidence-based review of the Employment Relations Act 1999, which

ends today with the publication of the Government's conclusions. The

Bill would also implement the TUC/CBI framework agreement on

Information and Consultation, giving employees the chance to be

informed and consulted on management decisions affecting their

future, including:

- employment prospects

- changes in work organisation or contractual relations, including

redundancies and transfers

- economic prospects for their industry

It would also improve the process whereby unions can gain recognition

from employers and enter into collective agreements, where the

majority of the workforce wants to.

The Bill would strengthen the rights of trade union members and

enable unions to be better regulated. It would ensure that union

members have a clear right to use their union's services and cannot

be bribed by employers to relinquish union rights. It would improve

the protections against dismissal of workers who take lawfully

organised strike action by exempting lock-out days from the eight

week unfair dismissal protected period.

The Bill would also provide greater protections for people who

request flexible working from unfair dismissal and improve the

national minimum wage enforcement regime. The right to be accompanied

to a disciplinary or grievance hearing would be clarified, to better

define the role of the person who is accompanying a worker.

Mr Sutcliffe said:

' I want to see an end to the climate where people only hear out of

the blue about job losses from the media, or by text message. I want

to see a 'no surprises' culture at work where employers and employees

discuss common ground and find solutions to mutual problems.

'It's wrong that racists should be allowed to hide behind their

political party membership to prevent unions from expelling them. So

we will amend the Bill to allow unions to expel or exclude those

whose political activities constitute offensive conduct.

'This Bill is founded on the principles of better regulation and will

build on the success of the framework of employment rights and union

recognition procedures of previous legislation. Since we proposed the

right to recognition, employers and unions have reached more than

1,000 voluntary recognition agreements. Cases under the current law

are decided in less than half the time than under the 1970s

procedure, and legal challenges and inter-union disputes are rare.'

Notes

1. The DTI is also publishing the Government Response to the public

consultation of the Review of the Employment Relations Act 1999. It

is available at www.dti.gov.uk/er/erbill_2003.htm

2. A copy of the Employment Relations Bill is available from

www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/pabills.htm

3. The Bill contains:

measures to improve the operation of the statutory recognition

procedure. For example, it clarifies issues surrounding the

determination of the appropriate bargaining unit; clarifies the

'topics' for collective bargaining; allows unions to communicate with

workers at an earlier stage in the process, and clarifies and builds

upon the current legislation relating to the supply of information to

the Central Arbitration Committee and the Advisory Conciliation and

Arbitration Service;

measures to simplify the law on industrial action ballots and ballot

notices; and provisions to increase the protections aga inst the

dismissal of employees taking official and lawfully-organised

industrial action by exempting 'lock-out' days from the eight week

protected period;

measures to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgment in

the case of Wilson and Palmer, which ensure that union members have

clear rights to use their union's services, and cannot be bribed by

employers to relinquish essential union rights;

measures to improve the operation of some individual employment

rights such as a clarification of the role of the companion in

grievance and disciplinary hearings; and to bring protections against

unfair dismissal for employees with less than one year's service who

request flexible working into line with other working parents

legislation;

a power to make regulations to introduce information and consultation

in the workplace;

measures to improve the enforcement regime of the national minimum

wage resulting from the consultation note published by the Government

in August 2003;

measures to give the Certification Officer greater powers to strike

out weak or vexatious claims;

measures to improve trade union regulation, and a power to allow the

Secretary of State to include non-postal methods of balloting in

statutory union elections and ballots.

Measures will also be added to the Bill on exclusion and expulsion of

racist activists and regarding the protection of strikers against

dismissal, which will define more closely the actions which employers

and unions should undertake when taking reasonable procedural steps

to resolve industrial disputes.

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