05/12/2003

Staff represenation needed for small businesses, say TUC

Three years after the majority of UK workers won the right to be represented by a union, six million employees in small firms are still being denied a voice at work, according to a report from the TUC.

In the report, ‘The next step: Trade union recognition in small enterprises’, produced by the TUC and four of its member unions, Amicus, GPMU, KFAT and Unifi – it is claimed that nowhere else in Europe is there a "similar bar to unions wanting to recruit and represent people" in businesses with 21 or less employees. Furthermore, current UK union recognition law is "arbitrary, discriminatory, irrational, inconsistent with international law and out of step with other countries", the report says.

The TUC report says there are 5.4 million employees currently working for establishments with less than 19 staff. Over a fifth (21.8%) of the UK workforce is employed in the small firms sector, and female workers are more likely than men to be denied a voice by the small firms exemption, as almost a third of UK women employees (compared to just over a quarter of men, 26%) work for smaller firms.

Although unions have no legal right to recognition in small companies, it is often workers in this sector who are in need of the most protection, the TUC said.

With low union membership and recognition levels, smaller enterprises usually have lower rates of pay, bigger gender pay gaps, and poorer health and safety records than larger companies which recognise unions.

Despite evidence suggesting that small employers stand to gain a great deal from working with unions, the Employment Relations Bill published earlier this week contained no proposals to extend union recognition laws to cover workplaces employing 21 people or less.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "Once again UK workers find themselves getting a raw deal compared to workers in the rest of Europe. As a result of the changes in recognition law three years ago, thousands of UK workers in medium-sized and large firms now have a union to speak for them at work. There is no logical reason to continue to deny the same rights to six million others just because they work for small employers."

(gmcg)

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