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Union Management Agreements: Guidance

Volume 413: debated on Tuesday 21 October 1980

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3 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider the inclusion in the Code of Practice on Closed Shops of guidance as to what action by employers and unions would be required to bring about the effective and certain dissolution of a union management agreement.

My Lords, the contents of the Code of Practice on the closed shop are currently under consideration in the light of comments received on the draft Code during the consultation period, and the noble and gallant Viscount's suggestion will be considered in this context.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer and I am grateful for the offer of consideration. When considering the question and the problem, will he and his colleagues remember that union management agreements both impose duties and confer rights on both parties? Will he remember that it is of importance, particularly to workers, to know as precisely as possible when an agreement has terminated, so that they know the implications and how their rights and duties are affected?

My Lords, I can certainly give my noble and gallant friend the assurance that we will take into account his comments today, as, indeed, we have taken into account his earlier comments which he delivered in written form.

My Lords, can the Minister arrange that the Code of Practice should include information to members, a substantial body of whom—by "substantial body" I mean at least 20 per cent.—might want to have a closed shop terminated but are frustrated, perhaps by an employer who is weak and union representatives who want to keep the closed shop going?

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will be aware that in the Code of Practice there is a paragraph and a section referring to periodic reviews of the practices of union membership agreement in that particular firm or industry. The Government do have it in mind, and that is the very reason we have this paragraph about reviews.

My Lords, regarding that review, can the Minister say exactly who has to think that an agreement no longer serves its purpose before the closed shop is allowed to lapse?

My Lords, will my noble friend consider examining in the Code of Practice while it is still in draft the point made by Mr. Aspinall in a letter in the business section of The Times today? Mr. Aspinall represents 500,000 people, managerial and professional staff. He draws attention to the need, with contracts of employment in the future, for union membership agreements to be attached so that everyone starting a job knows where they stand. Where there are unwritten agreements—de facto closed shop agreements—ought not some notice to be taken of this and possibly a poll taken, so that people have an opportunity of judging whether or not it has widespread support?

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for those observations. The Government do take the view that clarity is of the essence in all contracts of employment. As my noble friend says, where possible any unwritten rules should be clarified. These practices should be brought out into the open and it should be made clear to prospective applicants for jobs.

My Lords, will the noble Lord give an indication of the consultations that should or will take place with the trade unions concerned? After all, that is an important matter; they are the people concerned. Has he anything to say on this?

My Lords, which unions and in which industries? In general, the Trades Union Congress have been asked to submit their recommendations, views and observations to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. In regard to the closure date for these consultations, my right honourable friend has not had any clear or specific views. There have been roundabout views which have appeared through the press. My right honourable friend should be very grateful to receive any further observations that the Trades Union Congress might wish to make.

My Lords, he must know that inevitably this affects all unions. Apart from that, I believe the TUC should be consulted.

My Lords, I hoped I had made that point clear. Perhaps it was rather in the nature of my noble friend's contract of employment. But I am contracted to this Bench and I will make it quite clear.