Trade Union Recognition

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th January 2001.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Labour, Wentworth 12:00 am, 18th January 2001

What assessment he has made of the operation of the new provisions of the Employment Relations Act 1999 setting up the statutory arrangements for trade union recognition. [144527]

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Minister of State (Science, Energy and Industry), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister of State (Energy and Competitiveness in Europe)

The statutory recognition procedure has been in force since 6 June last year, and so far 38 applications for recognition have been received by the central arbitration committee. Early indications suggest that the procedure is working well and is becoming an accepted feature of the employment relations system.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Labour, Wentworth

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this week's TUC report shows that the number of new recognition deals signed by unions in the past 12 months is double that of the year before? In its northern region alone, the Transport and General Workers Union has signed or is in the process of signing 16 new voluntary agreements. Does that not demonstrate that the extreme hostility displayed by the Tories throughout the Act's passage through Parliament shows that the party is as out of touch with the modern employer as it is with the aspirations of ordinary working people, who simply want fairness and protection in the workplace?

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Minister of State (Science, Energy and Industry), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister of State (Energy and Competitiveness in Europe)

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. He was a very active member of the Standing Committee that considered the legislation and he knows that it aims to bring stability to collective bargaining. Not only do the Tories want to return to boom and bust, but they want to return to the them-and-us situation of the 1980s and 1990s which plunged the country into industrial unrest. The aim of the new procedure is voluntary engagement, and, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the TUC report published on Monday shows that there have been a record number of recognition deals—159 covering 58,000 workers in the 13 months from November 1999 to November 2000. That is a sign of consensus and of a voluntary approach to these matters. Stability has returned to industrial relations.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Conservative, Bury St Edmunds

Can the Minister explain why the number of strikes called in the past 12 months has increased by over a fifth?

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Minister of State (Science, Energy and Industry), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister of State (Energy and Competitiveness in Europe)

The hon. Gentleman is anxious to return to the days of the Government whom he supported, when industrial unrest was created and trade unions were not recognised. We are now seeing a greater spirit of partnership between employers and employees. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that 44 of the top 50 UK companies recognise trade unions. Working in partnership is the way forward for a Britain with a stable economy and stable industrial relations.

Photo of Michael Clapham Michael Clapham Labour, Barnsley West and Penistone

Does my right hon. Friend agree that recognised trade unions are important in ensuring that British industry meets its obligation to create wealth without damaging health? Will she consider bringing together trade unions, employers, insurance companies and lawyers in the construction industry, the steel industry and, in particular, the power industry with a view to facilitating the introduction of sectoral no-fault liability schemes for asbestos victims?

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Minister of State (Science, Energy and Industry), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister of State (Energy and Competitiveness in Europe)

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point that underpins the Government's attitude to industrial relations, which is that the spirit of partnership should be fostered. I shall reflect on his point and get back to him.