UNION LEADERS demanded new employment laws yesterday to strengthen workers' rights and ease restrictions on strikes. They criticised Tony Blair for failing to remove union laws introduced by the Conservatives and accused ministers of treating workers as if they were second-class citizens.
A succession of trade union leaders warned that Britain was in breach of international employment standards. But they were dismissed by Alan Johnson, the Employment Relations minister, who said the debate bore "faint traces of the days of the finger- jabbers". He insisted the Government would not relax rules forcing unions to ballot members before taking industrial action.
Delegates at the TUC conference unanimously passed a motion calling on the Government to repeal the ancient law putting employees in breach of contract if they took industrial action and said rules forcing unions to warn employers of their detailed strike plans should be scrapped.
TUC leaders also want an end to laws that give strikers a maximum of eight weeks' protection against dismissal and have demanded reform to make it more difficult for companies to take out injunctions.
Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, attacked employment legislation for upholding an "old fashioned masters and servants ethos".
He highlighted the case of workers at Friction Dynamex, an engineering firm at Caernarfon, north Wales, who were legally sacked last year after eight weeks on strike. He said: "If this is indicative of one thing, it is indicative of the need for an active and united trade union movement to speak out against injustices in the workplace and to campaign to persuade our Government to put the protection of workers at the top of their agenda."
Bob Crow, the left-wing leader of the RMT rail union, issued a threat of industrial action on the London and Glasgow Undergrounds and train networks on Merseyside and Tyneside to coincide with strikes by the Fire Brigades Union. …