Year 2000 No. 95, June 6, 2000

Provisions of Employment Relations Act Come into Force

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Provisions of Employment Relations Act Come into Force

Britain Takes Part in Pacific War Exercises

Half a Million Cuban Women March Past the US Interests Section

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Provisions of Employment Relations Act Come into Force

Today, the provisions of the Employment Relations Act 1999 come into force. This Act deals with statutory trade union recognition. In 27,000 words and 172 new paragraphs inserted into the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, provisions have been put in place as to how workers who wish to have a union recognised by their employer for collective bargaining purposes should proceed.

A request for recognition must be in writing, identifying the union making the request and referring to the new legislation. It must also specify a "bargaining unit". Identifying this unit and determining its appropriateness will be crucial, given the definition of what constitutes sufficient numbers of workers in favour for the application to succeed. Once a request is received the parties then have ten working days to reach agreement. If agreement is reached no further steps are necessary. If the employer indicates a willingness to negotiate, then it gets another 20 days in which to do so. A continued failure to reach agreement will bring the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) into play.

The CAC opens its doors, as it were, today. Its initial role in disputes will be to determine the bargaining unit and decide whether the union has the support of a majority of workers in that unit. They will not be involved unless it can be shown that members of the union make up at least 10% of the unit and the union has majority support within it. Majority support means to demonstrate that they would be likely to win in a ballot (e.g. through a petition). If a clear majority is not obvious, a secret ballot will follow. The cost is to be split between the employer and the union. The union needs to achieve a majority in the ballot, that is 50% plus 1 member, and, importantly, to show that those workers giving a "yes" vote constitute at least 40% of the total number within the unit. The newly formed CAC will assess whether or not a union passes either of these tests. If the bid fails it cannot be repeated in the same form within three years.

Recognition will lead to collective bargaining, which will need defining by written agreement primarily in relation to pay, hours and holidays, There are also obligations to meet the union and consult on policies and future proposals for training workers within the bargaining unit. There are sanctions against employers who attempt to victimise workers for the act of requesting recognition.

TUC General Secretary John Monks said of the provisions: "The main effect of the new law is to encourage more voluntary deals. Only a small minority of employers are now hostile to unions in principle, most recognise that modern unions want partnership, not needless conflict. But this law is needed to deal with those employers stuck in the 1980s or trying to bring US-style union busting to Britain."

The new chairman of the CAC, Sir Michael Burton, said that he accepts that there are a number of hurdles for unions to jump, but emphasises that the role of the CAC is to encourage agreement. It is, therefore, in the interests of unions to reach agreement in order to avoid the potential pitfalls of the legislation. For instance, although the CAC may decide that the union has sufficient support for its application, it may not agree with the union’s proposed bargaining unit.

It is reported that there has been an increase in voluntary deals being signed between unions and employers since the legislation was proposed. Commentators have pointed out that this could be because some employers want to end up with a union of their choice, not one that has been imposed on them under the legislation. Others are reaching agreements because they do not want to be dragged into a statutory process that is both complicated and long-winded.

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Britain Takes Part in Pacific War Exercises

Military forces from Britain, the US and five "Pacific rim" countries are taking part in a major week-long military exercise in the area around Hawaii, which began on May 30, according to the US Defence Department. The Pentagon said that "Exercise RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) 2000" also includes forces from Australia, Chile, Canada, Japan and South Korea, with more than 50 ships and 22,000 troops involved.

The periodic exercise, which includes submarines and an American carrier, is under the coordination of the US Third Fleet. It is the 17th in a series of joint Pacific naval exercises which have been conducted periodically since 1971.

The US Defence Department said that after the tactical phase of the war exercises, units from the different countries participating will visit the US navy base at Pearl Harbour.

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Half a Million Cuban Women March Past the US Interests Section

On Friday, June 2, half a million Cuban women marched past the US Interests Section in Havana to protest against the prolonged injustice meted out to Elián González and to demand the return of him, his father and his family to their country.

The demonstration, in which President Fidel Castro participated, was led by Elián’s grandmothers Raquel Rodríguez and Mariela Quintana and his great-grandmother Ramona, together with Vilma Espin, president of the Federation of Cuban Women.

Ending their march opposite the Interests Section, the women congregated at the José Martí Anti-Imperialist Tribunal where they expressed their rejection and condemnation of the new manoeuvres against this modest Cuban family.

After the verdict of the Atlanta Appeals Court and as soon as the news emerged of the further 14-day extension granted to the child’s captors, whose request for political asylum for Elián has been refused three times in succession by various courts and governmental bodies, the Revolution’s leadership called on Cuban mothers, grandmothers and women of all ages to march past the Interests Section building.

Part of the call said: "When it was evident that the majority of US and world opinion was hoping for a rapid and just solution, a ruling was produced that continues to recognise the rights and prerogatives of an impostor who has refused to comply with the orders of the authorities and the laws of the country in which he lives. For the six-year-old victim, it has opened up another possible chapter of arbitrary actions and the possibility of a cruel and interminable wait for the return to the warmth of his close and intimate family. This applies not only to Elián, but also to his baby brother, his father and his father’s wife who, with the loss of his mother, are looking after him with the greatest love."

According to the Prensa Latina news agency, a CNN news report stated that a demonstration by 500,000 women is without precedent.

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