PAYDAY FOR THE UNIONS; No-Limits Bonanza Ahead in Sacking Tribunals

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Byline: DAVID HUGHES;JOHN DEANS

TONY BLAIR yesterday opened the way for huge payouts to unfairly sacked workers in part of the biggest shift of power to the unions since the 1970s.

The long-awaited Fairness At Work White Paper scraps the [pounds sterling]12,000 ceiling on compensation, as predicted by the Daily Mail two months ago.

It also halves - from two years to one - the length of time staff must be employed before they can sue for wrongful dismissal, giving full employment rights at a stroke to an extra seven million workers.

The move threatens to turn employment tribunals into a goldmine for lawyers as the value of potential pay-outs could rocket into six figures.

This has already become the case in sex and race discrimination complaints with the record payout so far standing at [pounds sterling]234,000.

Union bosses were cock-a-hoop last night at the package which has taken a year to hammer out. But it triggered alarm among employers and brought Tory warnings that Britain could be plunged back into the dark days of industrial strife.

However Bill Morris of the giant transport union said the proposals, which should become law next summer, marked a 'turning of the tide' employee rights and industrial relations. White collar workers' leader Roger Lyons of the MSF said they swept away '20 years of fear and injustice in the workplace'.

Union chiefs and the Labour Left were still unhappy, however, that Mr Blair has refused to shift over his insistence that any demand for union recognition must be backed by 40 per cent of the entire workforce. They had wanted 30 per cent.

While the threshold will, in theory, be subject to review, a No 10 aide made clear last night that Mr Blair's view on the matter was 'settled'.

He added that once the measures became law, there would be no further union legislation before the next election - effectively closing the door on any change in the threshold.

Under the plans, the right to automatic union recognition will be granted where more than 50 per cent of a workforce are union members.

In a raft of 'family friendly' pledges, working parents will be entitled to more time off, maternity and paternity leave will be extended, and staff will be able to leave work to attend family emergencies without fear of dismissal.

Discrimination against workers belonging to unions and taking part in their activities will also be outlawed.

Shadow Trade and Industry Minister John Redwood declared: 'The unions gave [pounds sterling]110million to Labour in their Opposition years - now they are seeking a return for their investment.' He warned the measures will place huge new costs on firms, adding: 'Instead of allowing sleeping laws to lie and protect the fine inheritance of labour relations we gave them, the Government has taken only a year to set unions against business and business against unions.'.

The Institute of Directors strongly criticised moves towards compulsory union recognition. Director general Tim Melville-Ross said: 'By any standards today's White Paper represents a significant swing in the balance between employers and employers towards the employee.

With EU rules and minimum wage laws, firms now faced a 'plethora of extra regulations and costs', he said.

CBI chief Adair Turner also expressed 'significant concern' that the balance of power was being tipped too far in favour of the unions.

In a foreword to the document, Mr Blai insists the reforms will not herald a return to strikes without ballots, mass picketing, closed shops and secondary action.

He says: 'It cannot be just to deny British citizens basic canons of fairness - rights to claim unfair dismissal, rights against discrimination for making a free choice of being a union member, rights to unpaid parental leave - that are a matter of course elsewhere. …