Trades Union Congress motions: flights of fancy or soaring successes?

The annual TUC Congress in Brighton last week was a mine of information as speak­ers from unions debated topics as wide-ranging as the future of the post office and fires in high-rise dwellings.

Here’s our guide for HR professionals to the most important rubber-stamped motions, and how likely they are to succeed.

Agency workers

What unions want One of the main themes of this year’s congress was the need to protect vulnerable employees – encompassing migrants, those on low salaries and temporary staff. This motion, brought by super-union Unite, focused on the call for temps to gain equal rights to permanent staff from their first day on a job.

“Congress calls on the TUC to continue to mount a high-profile campaign for UK legislation in this parliament to outlaw discrimination against agency workers in basic terms and conditions from day one of employment,” said the carried motion.

How likely? This call is timely, with EU-level discussions taking place at the same time as the TUC Congress last week. The Portuguese presidency has put the Agency Workers Directive back on the agenda in an attempt to reach agreement.

However, with employer groups insisting temps should have to work in a job for 12 months before gaining full rights, and the government showing no sign of decisively backing either side, this could run and run. Specific UK legislation also seems unlikely.

Rating: Will struggle to get off the ground

Trade union rights and freedoms

What unions want Another massive issue was union anger that the Labour government has not repealed the series of anti-union laws passed by Margaret Thatcher during her reign as prime minister.

Bob Crow’s RMT union brought this motion, calling for the TUC to lobby parliament for support of the Trade Union Freedom Bill, which would start to ‘redress the balance’. Proposals in the Bill include making it easier for unions to organise industrial action.

How likely? The Trade Union Freedom Bill is due for its crucial second reading in Parliament on 19 October. It appears extremely unlikely that MPs will allow it through to the committee stage. However, Crow insisted that the TUC should withdraw financial support from all those MPs who do not vote in its favour.

Rating: Will never fly

Single Equality Act

What unions want Legislation to enforce private sector equal pay audits and give public sector bodies a duty to use procurement to promote equalities.

How likely? There is growing support for tougher discrimination laws. When the Trevor Phillips-chaired Commission for Equality and Human Rights officially launches next month, this pressure is only going to increase.

Rating: Will soar with a fair wind

Public sector pay

What unions want Co-ordinated industrial action to force the government to increase its below-inflation public sector pay offers.

How likely? Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka has been threatening joint strikes since May. Despite support from Unison and the National Union of Teachers, the ‘summer of discontent’ turned into autumn, and now looks set to be a winter at best.

Rating: Will struggle to get off the ground

Leitch Review of Skills

What unions want Paid time off for all staff to gain Level 2 qualifications if not enough employers have signed the skills pledge by 2010 – as suggested in the Leitch Review.

How likely? Gordon Brown told delegates that the government would consider making Level 2 training mandatory in 2010 if employers have not embraced the skills pledge. With just 50 or so more firms signing up to the pledge since it launched with 150 signatures in June, Brown’s resolve is likely to be tested.

Rating: Will soar with a fair wind

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