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Employment Act 1980

Volume 23: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied with the operation of the Employment Act 1980; and if he will make a statement.

The Employment Act 1980 came into force just over one and a half years ago. It is still too soon to make any final judgment about its effectiveness, although it has clearly constituted a substantial first step in promoting much needed reforms. We have, of course, taken full account of the way in which the Act has operated in drawing up the measures contained in the Employment Bill.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the step-by-step approach in the Act to industrial relations has been vindicated by events? Will he resist all future approaches to depart from a cautious approach to industrial relations?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there has been complete justification of the step-by-step approach and the importance of not moving ahead of public opinion. We were very careful when framing the Employment Act 1980 to include only proposals that had massive support from every section of British industry.

Is the Minister aware that when the Act was introduced Tory Ministers said repeatedly that one reason for its introduction was to ensure that there would be a reduction in unemployment arising from the removal of alleged restrictive practices? Is he further aware that since that date there has been an increase in unemployment nearly every month, rising to nearly 4 million?

My recollection is that when the Act was introduced it was made abundantly plain that it was introduced to deal with easily identified abuses. This year's Bill has also been introduced to deal with abuses. The general public were calling upon us to make sure that they were dealt with.

Is it not a fact that management and unions are carefully operating the 1980 Act? Will my hon. and learned Friend draw to the attention of trade unions the fact that they should use the ballot procedures not just on whether there should or should not be industrial action, but on their rules and procedures?

Certainly it is a great disappointment that after public moneys have been made available the TUC should still be saying that unions should not take these moneys to increase democracy in the trade union movement. That is a shocking attitude, particularly when the unions are taking public moneys for the training of shop stewards. The unions must realise that unless they quickly reform their attitude public pressure will grow for further steps to be taken. I agree with my hon. Friend that the 1980 Act is being used sensibly. It has been used to give remedies to people who have lost their jobs through closed shops, secondary picketing and secondary action.

If the 1980 Act is so satisfactory, why are the Government introducing a second Bill and promising to introduce a third?

I thought that it was abundantly plain that new abuses had arisen since the passing of the 1980 Act.

Hon. Members may shout, but I should have thought that it was obvious that new abuses have occurred in closed shops and in union labour only clauses in contracts.