Union calls for workers' rights

September 8, 2000

Universities have the worst track record when it comes to evading new laws on workers' rights, the Trades Union Congress will hear next week.

The Association of University Teachers, which will lead the call for a government review of employment rights legislation, claims universities are exploiting loopholes.

Some new rights, notably extended parental leave, are given only after a specified length of service. The AUT and the TUC want the rights to apply universally, from day one of employment.

A motion being put to the congress in Glasgow by the AUT says: "Congress notes that in the absence of 'day one rights', many employers continue to dismiss or disadvantage employees before they acquire rights to which they are entitled under new legislation.

"Much current employer behaviour reflects not flexibility but abuse."

The fairness at work legislation, which included the introduction of the minimum wage, was introduced through the Employment Relations Act last year. Parental leave applies only to those who have been employed for at least a year.

AUT general secretary David Triesman said: "We want a full review of the impact of the legislation. While the law has extended employees' rights, there has been quite an effort to make sure people never get to enjoy those rights.

"Each time there has been any change in employment law where time limits are put in place, you get a battery of employers who use the time limit to avoid the commitment."

He said that universities were the worst offenders. "Higher education institutions will knock people out of their rights further than any other employers."

He is expecting strong support from other sectors. "The intention of the government was never that rights should be avoided," he said. "There are not many areas where employers treat people as poorly as higher education does, but I sense that it is quite widespread."

Other items on the TUC agenda include:

* The AUT will urge congress to lobby each political party to ensure that they make a manifesto commitment to invest in higher education so that the UK is brought into the top quartile of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development nations

* Lecturers' union Natfhe will call on congress to call for the abolition of tuition fees for all degree and sub-degree courses, and to reaffirm "the strongest opposition to top-up fees". Natfhe's motion says that "the idea (of top-up fees) should be wholly repugnant to all those who believe in equality of opportunity" as such fees would "further entrench the privileges of the rich and powerful"

* Natfhe will also call for a statutory entitlement for employees to paid study time.

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