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Monday, 24 April, 2000, 02:48 GMT 03:48 UK
Employers warn over right-to-strike law
Employers' groups have warned that a new law making it illegal to sack workers who go on strike could herald a return to the "industrial climate of the 1970s".
The law, part of the Employment Relations Act, will protect millions of employees from dismissal in the first eight weeks of a dispute.
At the moment employers can dismiss all workers engaged in a strike without facing unfair dismissal claims, even if there has been a lawful ballot.
But David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF), said the law had introduced the "right to strike" by the back door.
"At a time when the latest government statistics demonstrate that the UK now has an industrial relations climate which is the envy of Europe, we are disappointed that the government is pressing ahead with this legislation, which sends signals that risk turning the clock back to the more adversarial climate of the 1970s," he said.
In the 1970s mass walkouts, lightning strikes and decrees of work-to-rule blighted Britain's productivity, leading eventually to the reforms of trades union law.
"We are now concerned that if employees are told they cannot be dismissed for striking they are more likely to vote in favour of taking industrial action," Mr Yeandle said.
But the TUC, which represents more than six million union members in the UK, said the new law would not cause more strikes.
A spokesman said government figures showed that industrial action was at an all-time low.
"With more and more companies and unions working in partnership, strikes are an increasingly rare phenomenon, only used when all other options have failed," he said.
"The new right won't lead to the outbreak of industrial unrest, but will give workers welcome protection against the small minority of bosses whose first reaction to a strike is to sack all the workers."
Martin Warren, a partner at law firm Eversheds, said the new law would lead to employers putting better methods for resolving industrial disputes in place.
"This is vital, because in cases where an employer fails to follow an appropriate procedure to resolve the dispute, even where the employee in question continued to strike beyond the initial eight-week period, it is still considered automatic unfair dismissal," he said.