Staff cannot face sack for legal strike, Act decides

Rights to protect striking employees from losing their jobs are to take
effect from 24 April, the Government has announced.

From that date any employer who dismisses a member of staff for taking part
in legal industrial action lasting less than eight weeks will be acting

If the action goes on longer dismissal will be unfair unless the employer
can prove that "reasonable steps" were taken to resolve the dispute.

This is the first of a series of measures coming in over the next few months
designed to strengthen the position of unions.

The rights are being brought in under the Employment Relations Act which
reached the statute books in August last year.

Announcing the measure last week, DTI minister Alan Johnson said it will be
a "powerful incentive" to both sides to resolve disputes through

But David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at the Engineering
Employers Federation, said it will lead to more strikes, especially as all
ballot papers will carry the message that strikers are protected by law.

"If staff know they cannot be dismissed they will be more likely to
vote in favour. This is providing a right to strike by the back door," he

Don Cuthbert, head of employee relations at Towers Perrin, said few HR
departments are geared up to deal with the new right.

In August half of 120 companies questioned by Towers Perrin had not made
plans, he said.

"Collective employee relations has not been on the agenda for 20 years.
There are not many HR directors in this country who have the skills to deal
with it.

"Even those who were around in the 1970s have not handled it as a
litigation issue," Cuthbert said.

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