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Collective Bargaining Rights

Volume 172: debated on Thursday 17 May 1990

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"It is unlawful for any employer to refuse to grant collective bargaining rights to his employees provided that a majority of the employees have, in a secret ballot, voted in favour of collective bargaining rights exercised through the trade union of their choice.'.— [Mr John Evans.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The clause seeks to establish bargaining rights for employees when a secret ballot has been carried out and it has been demonstrated that the employees wish to be represented for collective bargaining purposes by the union of their choice.

Clause 1 of the Bill makes it unlawful to refuse employment to a person because he is or is not a member of a trade union. The Secretary of State claims that he has demonstrated his even-handedness. The Bill is not even-handed; I should be amazed if it were. It is difficult to imagine any situation in which an employer would refuse to employ someone and tell him to his face that he refused to do so because he was a member of a trade union. The chances are that the employer would think up a thousand excuses before he got round to that one.

There is another side to the matter that I should like to draw to the attention of the House. While it would he illegal for an employer to refuse employment on the ground that the person was a member of a trade union, it would not be illegal to refuse employment on the ground of previous industrial activity. The employer would be perfectly free to tell somone to his face that he would not employ him because of the trade union activity in which he had indulged in the past. That needs to be stressed, because perhaps the Secretary of State has overlooked it.

There is another important issue. If the Secretary of State is giving the right to belong to a trade union, surely another right should go with that—the right to representation. The fact that a person is allowed to be a member of a trade union but is then denied the right to have that trade union represent him, which applies in many cases, means that the worker has gained precisely nothing.

An increasing number of companies are unilaterally withdrawing union recognition from their employees. I recently received a letter from SOGAT and the National Union of Journalists protesting about Associated Newspapers withdrawing trade union rights from the members of those two unions and imposing individual contracts on union members. The union makes the point that no other country in the EEC imposes such a policy. It is asking for the right to be recognised.

I hope that the Minister will recognise the strength of what I am saying. Although I do not expect him to accept my new clause, as a member of the Labour party who has always taken a great interest in trade union affairs, I assure him that, now that the Tory party has given the right to individuals to belong to a trade union, the next Labour Government will give the recognition rights that must go with that.

If a Labour Government, some time in the future, were to do that, they would be turning back the clock a very long way. The hon. Gentleman is aware that one of the first legislative steps that the Government took in industrial relations was to repeal sections 11 to 16 of the 1975 Act, which provided for what one might call compulsory recognition procedures. It is one of those issues on which one must decide where one stands. The Government do not doubt that it is for the employer to decide whether to recognise a trade union for a particular purpose. It would not he a progressive step to turn back the clock.

The hon. Gentleman should cast back his mind to the unique position of the 1970s, when ACAS told the Government that the recognition procedures were not constructive. To return to the atmosphere of the 1970s, with all the recognition disputes of that time, would be wrong. It was not appropriate for the 1970s, it was not appropriate for the 1980s and it certainly is not right for the 1990s.

The Minister has missed my point. I referred to a majority of employees holding a secret ballot and voting for collective bargaining rights. It is clear that the Government's thoughts lie entirely with the employers. The Opposition believe that collective bargaining is a joint exercise between employers and trade unions. We shall seek to redress the balance that has been heavily tilted in favour of employers and against employees. I shall be seeking a more equitable state of affairs—in about, I suggest, 18 months.

Again, I have not had the opportunity to develop my argument because of the pressure of time. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.