Round-up of industrial relations developments
February 2001 saw new moves concerning a number of key issues in UK industrial relations, including trade union recognition, workforce consultation requirements, age discrimination and parental leave rights.
During February 2001 there were developments in several important areas that have been the subject of EIRO records in recent months. These are outlined below.
Union wins first statutory recognition ballot
The Manufacturing Science Finance union (MSF) announced on 5 February 2001 that it had won the first ever union recognition ballot held under the provisions of the Employment Relations Act 1999 (UK0007183F). According to the union, staff at Saudi Arabian Airways voted by a ratio of nine to one to be represented by MSF in collective bargaining with the company. The ballot had been ordered by the Central Arbitration Committee- the independent body responsible for processing union claims for statutory recognition.
Figures released by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in January showed that unions had won 159 voluntary recognition agreements over the previous year - more than twice the number reported in 1999. The new deals cover over 58,000 workers. Unions say that the existence of the recognition legislation influenced many employers to reach voluntary agreements without recourse to the statutory procedures.
MPs seek improved consultation laws
On 8 February, the House of Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry called for substantial improvements to the UK's workforce consultation legislation. This recommendation was included in a report of an inquiry by the Committee into vehicle manufacturing in the UK which considered among other matters the controversy over BMW's break-up of the Rover Group and General Motors' announcement of the closure of the Vauxhall plant at Luton (UK0012104F).
The Committee welcomed the review of UK redundancy consultation requirements announced by the government on 18 January (UK0101110F). Its report commented that: "We are not persuaded that simply calling for the UK to sign up to the [draft EU consultation] Directive (EU0012285F) will be of great assistance", noting that the government has "settled objections, on grounds of subsidiarity", to the Directive. "The best course of action is to look to improve our domestic law, drawing on the proven advantages of some elements of the proposed European Directive and of the national systems on which it is based, but without some of the perceived inflexibilities."
Advisory group on age discrimination legislation established
The government has confirmed that it will be introducing legislation to tackle age discrimination in the workplace within six years (UK0003159N). On 14 February, the Department for Education and Employment minister responsible, Margaret Hodge, announced the establishment of an advisory group to advise the government on age discrimination issues. The group includes representatives from the TUC, the Confederation of British Industry, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the Employers' Forum on Age and other organisations.
The move follows the adoption in November 2000 of the EU Directive (2000/78/EC ) establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation which includes provisions on age discrimination (EU0102295F). The advisory group is the first step in the preparation of the necessary UK legislation. The government has promised extensive consultation on its eventual proposals.
Government pledges to introduce paternity leave
On 18 February, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said that the government would be proceeding with proposals for paid leave from work for fathers at the time of the birth of their child. Providing for two weeks' paid paternity leave was one of the options for improving parental leave arrangements outlined in the government's December 2000 consultative green paper (UK0101106F).
The government had been widely expected to include proposals for enhanced parental leave rights in its manifesto for the general election expected by May 2001. However, the Prime Minister's announcement attracted criticism from some employer groups for appearing to pre-empt the public consultation on the green paper which is due to continue until 7 March.