TUC sets out key objectives for UK consultation law

The annual conference of the UK's Trades Union Congress took place in September 2002. We review the policies it adopted on key domestic and EU issues, including the implementation of the information and consultation Directive and UK membership of the euro.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) held its annual conference on 9-12 September 2002 in Blackpool. A wide-ranging agenda included high-profile debates on employment law reform and European Union developments, as well as speeches from prominent guests, among them the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The conference adopted a statement from the TUC general council calling for 'full and effective UK compliance' with the recent EU Directive (2002/14/EC) on information and consultation (EU0204207F). This identified six 'key TUC objectives' in respect of UK legislation to transpose the Directive:

  1. information and consultation should be via representatives of recognised trade unions where they are present, otherwise by independent representatives elected by employees;
  2. information and consultation arrangements should be permanent;
  3. the UK legislation should allow for negotiated, organisation-specific agreements;
  4. in the absence of agreed arrangements, there should be a statutory procedure enabling recognised unions or employees to trigger negotiations with management about establishing information and consultation arrangements, with reference to the Central Arbitration Committee if management fails to respond or negotiations fail. Statutory fallback arrangements should ultimately be applicable;
  5. the UK legislation should include clear requirements on the timing and subject matter of consultation; and
  6. there should be speedy and accessible mechanisms for resolving disputes, with effective sanctions to enforce compliance.

A resolution on employment rights approved by the conference instructed the TUC general council to lobby MPs on the need for effective transposition of the Directive and organise a conference to brief unions on the issues involved. More broadly, the resolution identified a range of employment law reforms that the TUC will be urging the government to adopt during the review of the Employment Relations Act 1999 which is now underway (UK0208101N).

The TUC’s position on UK entry into the European single currency was more equivocal than in recent years, reflecting a stronger 'euro-sceptic' tendency among affiliated unions.

The TUC general council presented a statement to the conference reviewing EU developments which said that the TUC would continue to 'press the case for positive support for UK membership' of the single currency if the government’s five economic tests are met (UK9905102F) and at a sustainable exchange rate. The statement was opposed by a number of major unions, including the Unison public service workers' union and the Transport and General Workers’ Union, but was eventually approved by 3,514,000 votes to 2,313,000. The conference also supported a resolution designed to bridge both pro- and anti-euro views. This stated that:

Congress does not believe that the interests of manufacturing industry, public services and the trade union movement will be best served by a referendum on the European single currency unless a sustainable exchange rate between the pound and the euro is achieved, greater government support for the consolidation and expansion of the European social model is demonstrated, and assurances regarding any repercussions of entry on public expenditure are received.

Among other key policy decisions, the conference:

  • called for a substantial rise in the national minimum wage to between GBP 5.00 and GBP 5.30 by October 2004 (UK0207102N);
  • called for removal of the scope for individual opt-outs from the 48-hour statutory limit on weekly working hours (UK0202102F); and
  • voted to oppose the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and the privatisation of public services and called for an independent inquiry into PFI with a moratorium on further PFI projects in the meantime (UK0111107F).

The TUC conference also expressed strong opposition to unilateral military action against Iraq by the USA or any other country and called for a multilateral approach to secure Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. However, much of the Prime Minister’s speech to the conference the following day was devoted to setting out the case for military action against Iraq. Although his speech received a cool reception from delegates, speculation that the conference would give Mr Blair a rough ride on this and other issues proved wide of the mark.

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