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Monday, September 13, 1999 Published at 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK

UK Politics

Byers soothes TUC fears

The euro will be on the agenda at the TUC conference

Trade Secretary Stephen Byers has moved to stop a rift emerging between the government and unions over the implementation of the European Working Time Directive.

Speaking ahead of his speech to the TUC conference Mr Byers told the BBC that despite the fears of some unions: "We don't want to water down working time regulations."

Stephen Byers: "There are many people in the public sector who want to embrace change"
Mr Byers said guidelines would be issued by the government on how the regulations should be implemented.

But when he addressed the conference, the trade secretary conceeded many union members felt "anger and frustration" at the government's decision on some issues.

Some unions are concerned that the proposals to limit the working week to a maximum of 48 hours would be undermined as employers will not be required to keep records of the hours worked by those who have volunteered to be exempt from the new rules.

Embrace change

Mr Byers repeated Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent call for public service workers to embrace change.

[ image: John Monks: Criticised CBI]
John Monks: Criticised CBI
The trade secretary warned that a failure to do so would hold back the economy.

At the congress in Brighton, Mr Byers is also facing calls for an increase in the minimum wage - currently £3.60 an hour - and an end to the lower rate of £3 an hour for younger workers.

Union leaders have suggested that a rate of £4 an hour would be acceptable.

Click here to listen to John Monks' keynote speech in full
Earlier, TUC General Secretary John Monks criticised the employers' group, the Confederation of British Industry, saying it was whinging over the increase of workers' rights since Labour came to power two years ago.

He told the BBC: "British employers are the most lightly regulated in the EU. They are regarding as red tape what we see as some basic minimum civilised standards."

The BBC's Stephen Evans looks at the unions' attitude to the euro
But speaking in the body's defence, CBI leader Adair Turner said his members were concerned that the increase in employment regulations, particularly the European working time directive, was increasing the burdens on business and could ultimately affect jobs.

Another key issue likely to be discussed in Brighton is the single currency. The trade union movement is split about 50/50 on whether the UK should sign-up to the euro.

While some trade unions fear that joining the euro could lead to job losses, other unions fear the UK will be at a disadvantage if it does not join the euro and that it has already missed the boat.

However, the TUC is decided on one thing.

It said there were no plans to change the organisation's name to Unions United, despite speculation that a new image could be created under plans to modernise the movement.

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