UK & World News
Claims Of Union 'Bully-Boy Tactics' Probed
A legal probe into allegations of "bully-boy tactics" by trade unions, prompted by the Grangemouth oil refinery dispute, is to be launched by the Government.
Headed by a top QC, the review will examine claims of intimidation and extreme behaviour, including so-called "leverage tactics" used by the Unite union at Grangemouth.
The probe could lead to recommendations for major changes in industrial law, which the Conservatives would include in their manifesto at the next general election.
But the review has been denounced by union leaders as a "party political stunt".
And the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable insisted it should also investigate the role of employers in industrial disputes.
The move follows a pledge by David Cameron in November to review trade union practices with a view to bringing in new legislation to outlaw industrial intimidation.
But unions have refused to co-operate with the process, leaving ministers now forced to hold an inquiry headed by industrial relations lawyer Bruce Carr QC without unions being involved.
Tactics used by Unite in the Grangemouth dispute included a giant inflatable rat parked outside one boss's home and "wanted" posters put through executives' letter boxes.
But the union has always insisted all its protests were lawful and denied allegations by the plant's Ineos management and Government ministers, that bosses' children were intimidated.
A senior Whitehall source said: "The Government has a keen interest in the resilience of critical industrial infrastructure.
"Resilience cannot be guaranteed without effective workforce relationships.
"These relationships, and the law that governs them, have consequences both for the operation of particular, critically important, facilities, as well as more widely in the economy, at both a local and national level.
"Therefore, the Government wants to assess whether the current legislation dealing with activities taking place during industrial disputes is fit for the 21st Century."
The review's terms of reference are to assess alleged use of extreme tactics in industrial disputes, including so-called leverage tactics, and effectiveness of the existing legal framework to prevent inappropriate or intimidatory actions in trade disputes.
Mr Carr's review is expected to take six months and he will report to Mr Cable and the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.
Mr Maude said: "Trade unions can play a constructive role in the modern workplace.
"But allegations of union industrial intimidation tactics - which include attempts to sabotage business supply chains - are very serious and may be damaging our economy's competitiveness, which would make our future less secure.
"That's why it's right to have this review to get to the bottom of these tactics and to determine whether the existing law is effective."
Mr Cable added: "Strong and effective relations between employers and workers were crucial in safeguarding British jobs during the worst of the economic crisis.
"These strong industrial relations will continue to be at the heart of our economic recovery and I am keen to see balanced input from both sides on how to improve them further.
"This is especially important for sites that form part of our critical national infrastructure.
"We are determined to make the UK the best place in Europe to start and grow a business.
"Good industrial relations and a flexible labour market are key strengths of our economy.
"We must safeguard these if we are to continue to attract business investment in the years ahead."
But the review was condemned by TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady, who said: "This review may have been announced with great fanfare by the Prime Minister.
"But the delay in setting it up, the limited terms of reference and the exclusion of the promised consideration of employer behaviour, such as blacklisting, confirms that it was never anything more than a headline grabbing party political stunt."