Round-up of industrial relations developments

June and July 2000 saw new moves concerning a number of key issues in UK industrial relations, including legal challenges to the teachers' performance-related pay scheme and the UK's parental leave Regulations, the commencement of further provisions of the Employment Relations Act 1999 and the debate about the draft EU Directive on consultation rights.

During June and July 2000 there were developments in several important areas that have been the subject of EIRO records in recent months. These are outlined below.

Legal challenge to teachers' performance-related pay scheme upheld

On 14 July, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) won a High Court ruling against the way the government introduced its controversial performance-related pay scheme for teachers in England and Wales (UK0005173N). A judge ruled that the course adopted by the education and employment secretary, David Blunkett, had bypassed the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB), Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. In particular, the government did not have the power to set the criteria on which teachers' applications to cross the threshold for performance-related pay are to be evaluated. The judge also quashed an addition to teachers' conditions of service requiring them to assist in the threshold assessment of other teachers, which he ruled had been introduced with inadequate consultation.

Ministers strongly criticised the NUT's legal action, arguing that it would mean delays in the union's own members receiving the performance-related pay increase. However, the union said that it was important to prevent the government acting beyond its powers and without following the correct procedures. On 20 July, the government announced that it would not appeal against the High Court ruling and had asked the STRB to start the process of consulting formally on the threshold standards.

TUC parental leave appeal turned down

In a hearing before the Court of Appeal on 20 July, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) unsuccessfully argued that working parents with children aged under five but born before the 15 December 1999 commencement date for statutory parental leave rights under UK legislation should be allowed to take parental leave pending a ruling on the matter by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). In May, the High Court decided to refer the UK cut-off date for eligibility for parental leave to the ECJ (UK0006176N). According to the TUC, the Court of Appeal ruled that the matter would have to be determined by the ECJ but asked the ECJ to deal with the case as a matter of urgency. This may mean that the TUC's case is heard later this year.

New codes of practice accompany legislative changes

Two revised codes of practice – on the conduct of industrial action ballots and on disciplinary and grievance procedures – were laid before Parliament in June and are due to come into effect in September 2000 to coincide with amendments to the law in these areas introduced by the Employment Relations Act 1999 (UK9912145F). From 4 September, workers will have the statutory right to be accompanied at certain disciplinary and grievance hearings by a fellow worker or appropriately qualified trade union official of their choice. The related code of practice, drawn up by the independent Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, provides additional guidance on good practice. Modified rules on industrial action ballots will come into effect on 18 September. The code of practice on this issue is the responsibility of the trade and industry secretary and has been updated and simplified.

Opposing views on consultation rights

The UK's social partner organisations have been reiterating their opposing stances (UK9811162N) on the draft Directive on national information and consultation rules (EU9812135F) in the light of the intention of the French EU Presidency of the second half of 2000 to pursue negotiations on its adoption within the EU Council of Ministers (EU0007263F). Support for "rapid progress" on the Directive is among the recommendations made in a TUC report, published on 11 July, advocating a new government strategy for the manufacturing sector. The report says that improved rights to information and consultation are "a key element in delivering the partnership-productivity agenda". However, in a speech to industrialists the same day, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, Digby Jones, said that he "fail[ed] to see a sensible case for EU-wide legislation on consultation procedures" and warned that the French Presidency's social agenda could mean "new burdens on business".

The draft Directive featured prominently in discussions at the Labour Party's national policy forum on 8-9 July. Press reports indicated that union leaders won concessions from government ministers on the issue. While the government continues to oppose the Directive, it has reportedly agreed to a review of employee consultation rights on company restructuring which would look at which elements of the Directive might be implemented in the UK.

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