Round-up of industrial relations developments

During December 1999 and January 2000, there were new moves concerning a number of important ongoing issues in UK industrial relations, including a dispute at BT, junior doctors' working hours, and legal developments related to working time, parental leave and posted workers.

December 1999 and January 2000 saw developments in several important areas which have been the subject of EIRO records in recent months. These are outlined below.

Deal averts further strikes at BT

On 8 December 1999, following a national one-day strike by British Telecommunications (BT) call-centre staff (UK9912143N), the Communication Workers' Union and BT management reached an agreement they described as a "model of best practice" for the call-centre industry. As a result, further planned strikes were called off by the union. The agreement includes provision for reduced reliance on agency staff, performance criteria for teams rather than individuals and a stress management programme.

Talks on junior doctors' contracts drag on

Talks between the Department of Health and the British Medical Association (BMA) about reducing junior doctors' working hours and increasing their out-of-hours pay rates (UK9910136N) continued into early December 1999. On 11 December, a meeting of the BMA junior doctors' committee rejected the current pay proposals from the Department of Health, sought a meeting with the secretary of state for health and requested the BMA to make preparations for a strike ballot. According to the committee, current proposals from the Department of Health do not meet the union's objective of out-of-hours pay rates of at least 100% of basic pay. A further negotiating meeting was expected to take place around the end of January.

UK completes implementation of posted workers Directive

The Equal Opportunities (Employment Legislation) (Territorial Limits) Regulations 1999 took effect on 16 December 1999 and extend existing legislation concerning sex, race and disability discrimination to workers posted to the UK. This was the last remaining step necessary to complete the UK's implementation of the EU posted workers Directive (TN9909201S).

Amendments to working time Regulations take effect

Controversial amendments to the Working Time Regulations 1998 (UK9907117N) were finally brought into force on 17 December 1999. The changes, proposed by the government in response to employer concerns, have been bitterly opposed by trade unions. The amendments exclude from the calculation of the 48-hour maximum working week those elements of a worker's working time that are not measured or predetermined, and remove record-keeping requirements in respect of workers who have signed an individual "opt-out" from the 48-hour limit. New draft government guidance on the Regulations has also been met with criticism from the Trades Union Congress for being "legally inaccurate" and too "pro-employer" in tone.

TUC to challenge parental leave Regulations

On 19 January, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) decided to mount a legal challenge to the government's parental leave Regulations (UK9912144F) following advice from Cherie Booth QC- the wife of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair- that the restriction of parental leave rights to the parents of children born on or after 15 December 1999 is in breach of the EU Directive on parental leave. The Regulations exclude some 3.3 million parents of children under five. The TUC is likely to seek a judicial review of the Regulations. A similar provision in the Irish parental leave legislation is the subject of a complaint to the European Commission by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

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