This week, the good, the bad and the ugly of the union movement gather in Brighton to lay their demands on the table at the Trades Union Congress. But which motions will cause the greatest pain for employers, and what are the chances of the unions actually getting their way?
The question of whether unions should be able to negotiate over company pensions is the big worry here. The DTI is looking into it, arguing that pensions "are becoming an increasingly important part of the bargaining and consultation exchanges between employers and trade unions".
Employers' bodies have pointed out that not all staff are represented by unions, and ask why a minority should have a controlling voice. The issue is further complicated by the fact that pensions trustees could be union members, creating a conflict of interest, and companies these days tend to offer a mixture of defined benefit and defined contribution schemes.
This is going to get very complicated if the government decides to press on, and won't help get employers on side for future pension reforms. With any luck, common sense will prevail and the government will let sleeping dogs lie.
Agency Workers Directive
The government promised the unions it would support the EU Agency Workers Directive as part of the Warwick Agreement back in July 2004. The TUC claims UK temps have some of the lowest levels of protection in Europe, with no right to legal employment status. They want equal rights with full-time staff from day one.
But as one of the TUC's own leaflets - Agency Workers Have Rights Too! - points out, there are plenty of rights for temps. From day one, they get the minimum wage, working time rights (including holidays, holiday pay and a limit on the working week), and health and safety and discrimination rights.
The government's stance on the directive is best described as confused. A DTI spokesman said: "The government's position remains the same in that it supports the underlying principles of the directive, but strongly believes it should not put employment opportunities or the successful development of the UK agency industry at risk." Errr... right.