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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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News: CBI union proposals dismissed as “attempt to weaken employees’ voice”


CBI proposals to bring trade union laws “up to date with the modern workplace” have been dismissed by the TUC as simply an attempt to “weaken employees’ voice”.

In a speech at law firm Eversheds‘ Labour Relations Conference yesterday, Neil Bentley, the CBI’s deputy director general, attested that, while unions continued to play a constructive and important role in many workplaces, collective representation needed to change if employers were to “engage with people as individuals”.
Although employment law had been transformed, union laws had “not moved on at the same speed”, he pointed out.
“The current rules are largely unchanged and were crafted for a very different industrial relations landscape in the 1980s. Too often they empower union leaders at the expense of employees,” Bentley said. “What we seek is democratisation and modernisation of the law – bringing it up to date with the modern workplace by empowering individual members.”
To this end, he proposed that:
  • Workers should have to vote every three years if their employers requested it should they want statutory union recognition
  • The practice of aggregate balloting – in which unions ballot workforces that are employed by different organisations – should be dropped
  • Statements from both employers and unions should be sent out to members along with ballot papers and, in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, it should be made clear what action would be taken and what its consequences would be
  • In long-running disputes, employers should be able to offer pay settlements directly to employees rather than have to go through union representatives if they felt that the latter were obstructing a deal.
But the TUC’s general secretary Brendan Barber was sceptical. He said that the union umbrella organisation had always been in favour of better regulation to reduce red tape for unions and promote better workplace democracy.
An obvious way to achieve this was to introduce electronic voting in ballots, which “the CBI is curiously silent” on as an idea, he pointed out.
Another was to “review the laws that stand in the way of union members deciding democratically to take industrial action as a last resort such as the unnecessary technical requirements that provoke unfair intervention from the courts”, Barber continued.
Instead the current CBI proposals would only serve to “weaken employees’ voice, and some would make employment relations at sensitive times much harder to handle”, he said.
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett

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