Analysis: Trades Union Congress agenda 2008

Whether it actually started or not, the summer is now officially over. Next Monday (8 September) marks the start of the all-important conference season, with the TUC annual congress in Brighton.

Members of trade unions affiliated to the umbrella body will debate employment issues by the seafront, and vote on where the TUC should be focusing its energy.

With the body increasingly joining the government and the CBI to shape employment policy, this year’s congress will be an important guide to likely political developments over the next 12 months.

With 87 motions on the agenda, it is sure to be a very busy few days. Here we highlight the most important themes – and how afraid HR professionals should be of them.

Trade union rights

What they want

This is the main thrust of this year’s congress, with no fewer than 12 motions calling for greater powers for unions. Super-union Unite leads the charge, urging for members to pass a motion demanding the abolition of 1980s anti-union law, and “the restoration of trade union freedoms and workers rights”.

Central to the raft of demands are measures to make it easier to call strikes, and harder to punish workers who take part in strikes.

Perhaps the Prison Officers’ Association’s position is the strongest, calling for strike action by TUC-affiliated unions “until such time as the government removes the restrictive anti-trade union legislation from statute”.

Implications for HR

There is clearly a strength of feeling behind this issue. Whereas arguably the unions’ main concern for much of the past 12-18 months has been getting agency workers the same rights to permanent staff – expected to kick in after just 12 weeks’ employment as early as April 2009 – the issue of union power is now firmly at the front of their minds. With a weakened Labour government battling to win the next general election, pressure on ministers to bow to these demands will only intensify.

Fear factor: four out of five


What they want

The post-Leitch skills bandwagon rumbles on, with unions insisting employers need to do more to give their staff the training to survive in the globalised economy. Construction union Ucatt calls for TUC members to vote for a campaign to ensure that all government contractors provide craft-based apprenticeships.

Implications for HR

With an ever-growing list of demands on firms wishing to bid for lucrative state work, the government seems determined to use its procurement power to promote every employment policy it has. In the past couple of months alone, there have been announcements that such companies will have to publish workforce diversity statistics, offer basic skills training and promote union membership. HR professionals in the private sector face an increasingly onerous job preparing for public service contracts.

Fear factor: three out of five

Vulnerable workers

What they want

After a deal was struck on agency workers’ rights, the clamour for greater protection of vulnerable workers subsided. However, there will be strong calls in Brighton for the stronger enforcement of existing rights.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers will urge union members to vote for a motion to make strengthening enforcement mechanisms “a major priority in the run-up to the next general election”. It wants more cash for enforcement bodies, a national awareness campaign, and a role for unions in the crackdown.

Implications for HR

These motions are likely to be heavily supported at congress, but in general, the topic is a fairly safe one for employers. There are no calls for new legislation, just for more effective ways of enforcing existing laws. Employers that are not breaking the law can rest easy on this one.

Fear factor: one out of five


What they want

There will be calls for legislation to make companies carry out equal pay audits and extend the equality duty to the private sector, along with demands for measures to support new mums, ethnic minorities and other minority groups.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has tabled an amendment to an existing motion, calling for the TUC to ensure employers introduce “meaningful equality impact assessments and equal pay audits”.

Implications for HR

With the Equality Bill going through Parliament in the next year, this is definitely an area to keep an eye on.

Fear factor: three out of five

Pay and conditions

What they want

The GMB calls for all employees working on public sector contracts to have access to public sector pension schemes, irrespective of their employer.

There is a raft of further calls for strike action against the government policy of below-inflation public sector pay rises.

Implications for HR

This campaign rumbles on but it doesn’t really feeling like it is gathering momentum. How long the government can ignore the bad feeling as it nears an election, however, remains to be seen.

Fear factor: two out of five

Conference season

  • TUC 8-11 September, Brighton

  • Liberal Democrats 13-17 September, Bournemouth

  • CIPD 16-18 September, Harrogate

  • Labour 20-24 September, Manchester

  • Conservatives 28 September-1 October, Birmingham

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