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Wednesday, December 9, 1998 Published at 02:09 GMT

Business: The Economy

Mandelson seeks to calm Fairness at Work nerves

Peter Mandelson: Seeking consensus

Trade Secretary Peter Mandelson has promised that he does not intend to impose trade union recognition in every workplace "willy nilly".

Tanya Beckett: Industrialists taking Mandelson at his word, for now
But he also sought to reassure unions that the Fairness at Work white paper would not be "watered down" and that he remains committed to the "essence" of the proposals.

Addressing a meeting of the London Region of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Mr Mandelson said he was seeking a lasting solution on industrial relations

"What is at issue is statutory [union] recognition where - despite substantial support amongst employees of a company - the employer still refuses to concede it," he said.

The Fairness at Work proposals would see unions entitled to recognition by an employer if "50% plus one" of the workforce are members.

Peter Mandelson: "I want to take industrial relations out of the political battleground"
The CBI and other employers' groups have been lobbying to weaken the plans. Bosses fear they will have a damaging effect on production by undermining reforms introduced by the Conservatives, such as pre-strike ballots and restrictions on picketing

The trade secretary told the meeting he was not "starry eyed" about trade unions and he made it clear that such key elements of Tory industrial relations legislation would not be changed.

Mr Mandelson reinforced his message with a firm commitment to the "shape" of the trade union recognition plans in the white paper.

[ image: Bill Morris:
Bill Morris: "The devil is in the detail"
But he insisted that a "consensus" between employers and employees was vital.

"I don't want them fighting over it for forever and a day," he said.

"It will be verified and corroborated so that everyone can feel satisfied that the desire for recognition - to be represented collectively by the trade unions - is something the majority of the workforce actually wants."

The TGWU 's Bill Morris: "It's not just about making sure the employers are happy"
Bill Morris, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, welcomed Mr Mandelson's comments , but said that the test should be whether or not businesses see the proposals as fair.

"Like most things, the devil is in the details, so we're still waiting," he said.

"The real test is going to be workability, fairness and it is right."

Details of the Fairness at Work legislation will probably be published early in 1999.

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