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Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): My contribution will come as no surprise to the Chamber. I am a member of the AEEU, which is now Amicus. I was a full-time official of that union and I am proud of how I acted as a union official and how I protected workers where I possibly could, in spite of legislation passed by Conservative Governments.
The Bill is evidence of the Government's clear and continuing commitment to protecting the interests of workers against unscrupulous and exploitive employers. Anyone who denies that needs a reality check. It might be useful for Opposition Members to consider the example of the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), who spent some time with a family in order to understand just how difficult it is to survive in the real world. If Opposition Members took the opportunity to act as workers in factories, they would realise how difficult it sometimes is to deal with their conditions and the wages that they try to negotiate.
Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman raised an interesting point about Members being able to draw on their individual experience and mentioned my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr.
Mr. Tynan: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the employment created by the Government, with unemployment at its lowest level, and to the inflation rate and mortgage interest rates. I challenge him to say that the Government have been a failure in managing the economy. I dismiss his point because we are obviously doing very well and will continue to do so.
Let me make my point by referring to a small company called Craven Taskers in Cumbernauld where I represented members. Some of its workers had spent a lifetime30 yearsin the company's service. The owners put a bad manager in to manage that company and he treated his workers in such a way that they went on strike. Within three days, under legislation introduced by a Conservative Government, every one of those workers was dismissed, and, despite my best efforts, the company refused to discuss or negotiate. I am sad to say that the result was that the company closed down completely. The workers were determined not to be denied and they continued to picket the factory for a year. That is not the way to conduct industrial relations, but there are employers even today who under the same circumstances would do as that employer did, and that is why this legislation is necessary.
The Conservative party conference last autumn called for a sunset clause for Labour employment legislation to see whether it is costing jobs. We do not need a sunset clause to see whether we are losing jobs. The Conservatives could do that from their own experience. But as the Bill is based on a wide-ranging consideration of previous legislation, I had hoped that Opposition Members would show some humility and co-operation, instead of petty political opportunism. It is said that hope springs eternal, but unfortunately the hope that I had for today has not been realised.
Conservative Members have attempted to present a wide gulf between workers and management, but that is not the case. Many companies, such as Babcock and Wilcox, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell, negotiate with their employees on a yearly, two-yearly or three-yearly basis and reach agreement.
Miss Kirkbride: I have a great regard for the hon. Gentleman, but he is unfairly representing the Opposition's point of view. We say that much of what is in the Bill is best practice in many companies, which we applaud and welcome, but we believe that voluntary co-operation is by far the best way forward rather than Government diktat. That is precisely our point.
Mr. Tynan: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but she misses the point. Where companies have good relations and best practice, there is no problem, and this Bill will not affect them because they already do what it seeks to achieve. Where it will have an effect is where a bad employer treats its work force in the wrong way. It will ensure that such workers have the
That is why I welcome the Bill, and I was happy to hear from the review that there was a general recognition that procedures are working well and that the Bill is primarily a tidying-up exercise. But the comments of Opposition Members suggest that they view it not as a tidying-up exercise but as a waste of time, and that is sad.
I welcome the proposal on the eight-week period. As has been said, that is relevant to Dynamex Friction. If a work force goes on strike and is locked out by the employer, who lets the dispute lie idle over an eight-week period without any negotiation to try to resolve it, then sacks the work force, that is grossly unfair. To bring sanity to that situation, it is important to encourage negotiation and dialogue, which allows for real progress in improving the working relationship between the company and the work force. Given this afternoon's events, I would have liked the period to be longer than eight weeks, but I recognise that we are living in the real world, and this provision will help to resolve the problem.
I support the strengthening of the right to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance hearings. In one instance in Scotland, a friend of minewho was suspended from the Labour party, believe it or notwas asked to go into the general office and told to bring a witness, but that witness could not speak. I welcome the opportunity to correct that anomaly, which is grossly unfair.
Much has been said about stopping small firms with 20 employees developing and growing. Many small employers have an excellent relationship with their employees, and many recognise trade unions, but some are hellbent on refusing to accept that they should treat their work force in a reasonable manner. In a company just outside Motherwell with 210 employees, a person who wanted an aspirin had to go to ask someone on the middle of the shop floor and to give the reason why they wanted it. On the nightshift, the fire doors were blocked, the doors were locked, and the work force was retained in the plant. Those people were desperate to join a trade union. Unfortunately, as a trade union official, I got involved with the problem. No disrespect to the work force, but we spent six months trying to resolve it. The elected shop stewards were sacked within three or four days of joining the union, and the work force came out to support them. Such an employer should not be allowed to continue in that vein. I ask the Minister to consider companies of 20 employees, because there is scope for the Government to monitor the situation.
I will be proud to go into the Lobby to support the Bill, and I hope that, even at this late stage, the road to Damascus will reopen to Conservative Members. However, I have serious concerns about several issues, including pensions. At Hoover, where I was a full-time convenor, I was involved with the pension advisory committee that was set up to enable us to negotiate with the employer. The company had a staff pension scheme of 5 per cent. and a manual workers scheme of 2.5 per cent. On Monday, during Work and Pensions questions,
I wanted to make that point on Monday and I am glad that I got the opportunity to make it today. Wages and conditions are important. Pensions are deferred wages and they should be part of negotiations. I ask the Minister to consider that seriously.
I should like to speak about political ballots, which the previous Conservative Government vindictively introduced in an attempt to prevent funding to the Labour party. I am delighted that unions continue to contributeI make no apology for accepting a union contribution. The union has an agreement with my constituency party, to which it pays £2,000 a year. That is transparent and above board and I have no problem with the unions contributing on that basis. The Minister should consider political ballots. I do not believe that there is a need for a ballot every 10 years, but if my hon. Friend is convinced of the case for that, why do not we ask the various companies that contribute to the Conservative party to ballot their shareholders?
I conclude by focusing on the Bill's important union and employment aspects. The national minimum wage is one of our greatest achievements and a measure that the Conservative party would love to remove. When asked what measures Conservative Members would abolish, they reply that they would have to be considered collectively. However, the minimum wage is important and has been a tremendous gift to its beneficiaries. Conservative Members have accepted it through gritted teeth. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) made a point about tips being taken into account in the minimum wage. I urge the Minister to deal with that problem in Committee.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to air my grievances. For a long time when I was a union official, I was frustrated by the legislation that emanated from the Conservative Government. At last, I have the opportunity to say, in a debate on a trade union Bill, exactly how I felt on behalf of the members whom I represent.