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Union "leverage tactics" sparks QC inquiry into industrial relations

22 November 2013 #Employment

The government has launched an inquiry into trade union tactics following the dispute at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant, which almost led to its closure. The review, headed by Bruce Carr QC, will examine whether the law needs to be tightened up to prevent "intimidation" and "harassment".  

However, the inquiry will make recommendations about the roles of ministers, employers and workers in industrial relations. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said the review would also examine the issue "in the round", including "irresponsible business practices" such as blacklisting of union members.

It has been alleged that the union Unite sent a "mob" to the home of a refinery manager during the recent dispute. Unite said it would not co-operate with the inquiry as it was a "Tory stunt". It defended its use of so-called leverage tactics, where managers are directly targeted as part of a protest, and argued that bad employers should have "nowhere to hide".

According to the BBC, Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude has said the review`s first task would be to establish the facts about what happened in the Grangemouth dispute. However, it will also look at whether current trade union laws were effective "in preventing the kind of really intimidatory activity that was alleged to have taken place around Grangemouth... to see whether law is effective in preventing that and if any changes should be made."

Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said he would back "measured, sensible, prudent reforms" to trade union law but he was "not up for a bunch of union bashing".

Scotland`s First Minister Alex Salmond said he had not been consulted on the inquiry and the way it had been announced suggested it was "entirely about seeking electoral advantage".

Once appointed, it is expected the panel will take six months to gather evidence and report. Industrial relations lawyer Mr Carr is set to head a panel of three people, with employers and unions each represented. It will report to Mr Maude and Business Secretary Vince Cable.

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