20th Anniversary Report Testimonies

Submitted by carolyn on Fri, 01/05/2009 - 17:27

What they said:

Our Anniversary Report included comments kindly submitted by a wide range of our supporters – academics, lawyers, trade unionists and others.

We received so many supportive statements that we had to shorten the contributions to include them all in the Report. Below we reproduce those kind messages in full.

Brendan Barber, TUC
Over the last 20 years the IER has made a valued contribution to debates on the future of labour law in the UK and beyond. The Institute has been an important resource and friend to the trade union movement. Through high quality publications and regular conferences, the Institute assists union officials to keep up to date with the latest opportunities and challenges presented by the law. The TUC looks foward to continuing working with the Institute over the next 20 years.

Tony Benn
The development and strength of the trade union movement has been the foundation of democracy in Britain from the time the Tolpuddle martyrs returned victorious from Australia, through the chartists and the suffragettes to the foundation of the Labour Representation Committee and the Labour Party which created the welfare state and gave us strong public services and public ownership of essential industries.

So successful was this peaceful revolution that we have to see the Thatcher years as a counter-revolution designed to destroy its basis.

First, there was the attack on the trade union movement spearheaded by the pit closures which weakened the NUM, then came the strangulation of local government as in Lambeth and Liverpool and third, the privatisation of public assets.

With a huge majority which Labour won in 1997 all that could and should have been reversed had not New Labour decided to build upon Thatcherism in the hope of winning media support.

Since then trade union rights have remained restricted, privatisation has continued and local government has remained an agent of Treasury policy.

It is an amazing fact that the legal rights of trade unions today are less than they were in 1906 when the Liberal Government introduced the Trades Disputes Act.

The Institute of Employment Rights has maintained a consistent and principled policy of securing for working people through their trade unions the rights that are needed for the betterment of the nation as a whole. And in the 12 years since the Labour landslide of 1997, despite votes at the TUC and the Labour Conference, these rights have not been restored.

Denied the bargaining power that would have allowed better wages and conditions, trade unionists were encouraged to meet their needs by borrowing and as a result the personal debt has weakend them further since those in debt are much less likely to risk industrial actions if it could lead to the repossession of their own homes.

At this moment when the whole free market philosopy has been exposed for the fraud it was, this is the time to intensify the campaign and push it to a successful conclusion by forcing the government to introduce the necessary legislation.

This is not only politically right but also electorally necessary since the disillusionment of so many Labour voters has been based on their disappointment that the New Labour Government prefers to manage people than to represent them.

Indeed, the credit crunch, the recession, the unemployment and the global crisis that it has created makes the case for strong trade unionists nationally and internationally central to any campaign for social justice and peace.

Rodney Bickerstaffe
For the last twenty years the Institute has been a beacon of enlightenment -highlighting the need and showing the means for radical reform in workplace relations. In these uncertain times, the Institute is needed more than ever.

Mike Bradley, General Secretary, General Federation of Trade Unions
The General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) has been pleased to have been affiliated to IER since it inception.

We have collaborated extensively particularly in respect of our annual Advanced Course for full time officials and the publication of Federation News. The latest edition of Federation news covering recent ECJ decisions has been widely welcomed as a major contribution to debate within the Trade Union and Labour movement.

IER publications are used extensively on our education and training courses and the seminars organised by the institute are always relevant and informative.

Heres to the next 20 years and keep up the good work. The movement needs authoritative and well researched material in order to campaign affectively for our members.

Brian Caton, General Secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association
For many years now the POA has worked closely with the Institute in a number of areas, particularly in relation to Trade Union Rights, not only for prison staff who were denied the right to take industrial action by the Conservative Government in 1994.

Despite promises by the Labour Party in opposition to reinstate the rights of prison staff to those no difference from other workers in the United Kingdom, the New Labour Government reneged on these promises as soon as they came to power.

Since that time, the POA have fought along side the Institute to right this wrong through successive applications to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and are currently progressing the campaign to the European Court of Human Rights.

The POA, along with the Institute remain fully committed to this specific campaign, more important in many ways is the broader campaign for the Trade Union Freedom Bill that was so unjustifiably talked out by the New Labour administration.

We at the POA are sure that through the irrepressible commitment of all those at the Institute for Employment Rights and the support it is given by like minded Trades Unions and the wider workers movement in the UK and throughout Europe we can succeed in brining about real trade union rights for workers in the UK and real improvements in our currently disgraceful employment laws.

The POA wish to thank all of those at the Institute for their support in recent years and give you our commitment that we will continue our support for you.

Stephen Cavalier, CEO, Thompsons Solicitors
Many congratulations to the Institute on its 20th anniversary. It has been 20 years of considerable achievement – raising the profile of labour law issues and putting them at the heart of trade union debate.

The Institute has succeeded in making previously controversial issues part of mainstream union policy and thinking. The Institute’s seminars and publications are of a consistently high standard and have been thought provoking and well-attended: indeed I would like to thank the Institute for regularly securing large audiences for my seemingly endless contributions on TUPE.

I would particularly highlight the Institute’s excellent contributions on working time, Wilson & Palmer and the ASLEF case which have helped to forge new rights for workers.

Through the Institute, I have been privileged to work with some great people. I would like to pay special tribute to Brian Bercusson – a great lawyer and a great friend who is so much missed. And also to Cad, John and Keith for the fantastic work they have done and continue to do.

IER remains as relevant today as ever – and will be even more so as we face the turbulent times ahead.

Laura Cox, High Court of Justice; British Member of the CEACR
I am delighted to have been asked to contribute a few words on the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR), to mark the 20th anniversary of the Institute of Employment Rights. It is a sobering thought that, whilst the Institute can rightly congratulate itself on a full 20 years in existence, the CEACR recently celebrated its 80th anniversary, having been created as long ago as 1926. As the current British member of the CEACR, I am pleased to have this opportunity to say something about its continued relevance and importance. This is especially so given that one of the Institute’s aims over the years has been to increase awareness and understanding of international labour standards generally.

The most striking features of the CEACR, in my view, are its longevity and its consistency. Whilst Governments have come and gone, along with the national labour laws they have enacted over the years, this Committee has patiently persisted in its important task of monitoring compliance across the globe with international labour standards, which many ILO Member States eagerly sign up to but then fail to implement effectively.

The creation of the CEACR was originally envisaged as a temporary measure and as something of an experiment. By 1926, the increase in the number of annual Government reports submitted on the various ILO Conventions, and the increase in the number and complexity of the legal issues being raised in relation to their application, required a new approach. Some mechanism had to be found for the effective, annual supervision of all these standards. And to have integrity and value, it was recognised that such supervision had to be carried out through an impartial, objective and technical analysis of the reports by a wholly independent body of expert lawyers. Thus the International Labour Conference created both the CEACR, which would consider them all and prepare its own report, and the tripartite Conference Committee on the Application of Standards, which would consider that report and determine any action required.

It is a testament to the success of the CEACR that, 80 years later, it is still fulfilling that same, essential task; and that it is now widely regarded as one of the most effective supervisory bodies within the UN system. It is on any view remarkable, given the general antipathy towards members of the legal profession, that the work carried out over the years by a committee of lawyers has been held in such high esteem by so many for so long!

Of course, much has changed in that time, not least the workload. When the CEACR first met it had only 8 members, who examined reports on 23 Conventions from just 26 of the 55 Member States. By the time of its 80th anniversary in 2006, there were 20 Committee members, 178 Member States and 187 Conventions, addressing almost every form of labour and working conditions. The members are now drawn from all the geographic regions of the world, enabling the Committee to benefit from their direct experience of different legal, economic and social systems. They all have nationally or internationally recognised experience and expertise in labour law, human rights and international law, as judges of supreme courts, senior academic lawyers or legal practitioners; and the appointments process, involving appointment by the Governing Body on the recommendation of the Director-General, ensures the Committee’s continued independence.

Their work has led to the accumulation, over the years, of a substantial body of jurisprudence contained in the CEACR’s annual reports and general surveys, which are increasingly being referred to by members of the judiciary in labour courts and tribunals, and by the representatives appearing before them, when interpreting national laws on issues which are the subject of ILO Conventions. In this way, in addition, the important work of the ILO has had and will continue to have recognition and influence in the sphere of labour rights.

In carrying out its work patience is both a virtue and a necessity. Without doubt there have been many cases of progress over the years, where Governments have responded positively and given effect to the Committee’s observations. It is also true, regrettably, that serious failings and difficulties of application persist. But the indirect effects of the CEACR should not be forgotten in any assessment of its value. In practice, it exercises considerable preventive supervision which, by its nature, is difficult to quantify. The Committee’s comparative analysis of a State’s draft legislation on a particular issue, for example, will often reveal the incompatibility of certain provisions with the relevant Convention. Such an analysis, with constructive suggestions made in the requests sent directly to the State concerned, enable the necessary changes to be made before the draft is enacted, so as to ensure a correct application of the international standard. The Committee can then turn to its effective implementation in practice.

Over more than 80 years the CEACR has recognised the importance of remaining true to its original creation as a wholly independent body, which can always be relied upon to carry out its work objectively and impartially, without political interference from any quarter. Its continuing success undoubtedly lies in its adherence, throughout its existence, to that fundamental principle.

Bob Crow, General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers
As a socialist, dedicated to fighting for fairness, justice and equality, I find it completely frustrating that, 10 years into a Labour Government, trade unions in the UK still struggle to do their job “under the most restrictive trade union laws in Western Europe”.

For 20 years the Institute has offered progressive ideas for improving our laws. What’s lacking is the political determination elsewhere to turn those ideas into legislative reality. How much longer must UK workers wait for similar employment rights and levels of pay enjoyed by other European workers?

The Institute’s work offers a template for the way forward. What we need now is a government with the political will to reject neoliberalism and embrace a collective solution to workplace injustices.

Jeremy Dear, General Secretary, National Union of Journalists
The NUJ’s proud association with the Institute goes back many years. Harry Conroy represented the NUJ on the IER’s first Executive Committee. That role was enthusiastically taken up by John Foster, who worked closely with the Institute, bringing the Press for Union Rights and other groups under the effective umbrella of the Institute.

Over the years, the NUJ has supported the Institute’s work financially, practically and politically – transposing IER ideas into NUJ policies and campaigns. We supported the IER’s call for extended rights for freelance journalists; we campaigned for the Charter of Workers’ Rights, for much needed improvements to the recognition procedures and for the Trade Union Freedom Bill.

Perhaps the most significant and memorable issue for the NUJ was the seminal case of Wilson v Associated Newspapers, which declared UK laws in breach of fundamental human rights and in need of reform. The support, guidance and assistance offered by the Institute, particularly John Hendy, throughout that long battle will never be forgotten.

Megan Dobney, Regional Secretary, Southern & Eastern Region of the TUC
Happy birthday Institute of Employment Rights!

I was privileged to work for the Institute for eight years from 1998 to 2006. It was a time of great optimism with the election of the first Labour government for many years, and the promise of some of the worst aspects of Tory employment legislation being rolled back.

And some of it was of course – but much of it wasn’t…

Key events that stand out during this period were the introduction of a statutory minimum wage, working time regulations and the trade union recognition procedures contained in the 1999 Employment Relations Act.

The Institute can’t claim all the credit for these successes, but most certainly can claim to have advised, informed and illuminated unions, officers, activists and members on the key issues, the legal background and context, and strategic and tactical considerations.

Slipping back for a moment to my working life at the Institute, and to the union recognition rights brought in by the Labour government…

My desk was the front end of the office telephone system and whilst I was typesetting books or preparing subscribers’ mailings, I would often be interrupted by workers who had seen “Institute of Employment Rights” in the telephone directory and thought we were an advice centre. Regardless of the issue described (pay, dismissal, discrimination, health and safety) my first question would be ‘are you a member of a union?’ The commonest answers were a tragic ‘no, I only work for a small company’, or ‘no, I only work part time’.

The trade union movement has often been criticised for its “male, pale, and stale” image. Allied to this is the oft-held perception that trade unions are for “regular” workers in big factories, transport or local government. The government decision to introduce recognition rights only for workers in companies with 21 or more employees re-inforced this perception. Overturning this view is a big hill to climb – but in a world where a large minority of people work for small companies, where the majority of the workforce is female, where the vast majority of part time workers are women – it’s a hill we need to conquer, both for the immediate benefit of working people and for the long term success of trade unions.

These perceptions of trade unions are not true, but they are firmly held nonetheless. So here we are, 20 years after the creation of the Institute in Tory times, ten years after the election of a Labour government, and still we struggle, in the face of a predominantly hostile media, to ensure the real picture is seen. Informing activists, and thereby developing informed activism, is one of the profound achievements of the work of the Institute of Employment Rights – and long may it continue!

As soon as I entered the Institute’s office in 1998, what was immediately apparent to me was where the strength of the Institute lies – in the commitment and expertise of its members and leadership. The freely-given participation of our finest academics, legal practitioners and trade unionists lies at the core of its success.

So again – Happy Birthday Institute. Thanks for everything you’ve done. May your successes multiply and the government recognise its faults and rectify them!

John C Foster, former General Secretary of the NUJ
The Institute was born 20 years ago; it seems like yesterday and you know what a rotten day yesterday was. It was the time of Thatcher and the rise of the free–market dogma, an end to the idea that there was any such thing as society or public service. From now on everything could be left to the magic of the market. At the forefront of the attack on collective responsibility and people’s rights was the attack on the trade union movement. First with the changes in the law and then with a policy of confrontation with the various groups of workers: miners, printers, etc. Our morale was at a low ebb. It was dealing with these issues that gave birth to the Institute.

The Institute brought together academics, lawyers, and trade unionists, with the intention of producing leaflets and books and arranging seminars and meetings to discuss ideas and give confidence to workers who faced the worst aspects of Thatcherism in their day to day lives. Over the years it has produced a body of work to be proud of, stimulating debate and organizing meetings in all parts of the country at the TUC, at party conferences, and in the work place. The central theme of the work has been to show that together we are stronger and better than the Tory government.

New Labour was built on the same shifting sands of the Freemarket – every public enterprise was bad and all private enterprise good. So good in fact that they could run education, the NHS and everything for their own short term interests.

The Institute has with many others stood against these wrong- headed short term fundamentalists. There is an even greater need to continue the work, which has been a source of inspiration to many people over the last 20 years.

Thanks to all those who have worked so hard producing the books and leaflets and organizing the meetings. A special vote of thanks to Carolyn Jones, John Hendy and Keith Ewing.

Ken Gill
I have long admired the work of the Institute. Its strategic vision has been immeasurable in the long running campaign to secure economic and social justice for working people. Unfortunately there are still some labour leaders who cling to neo-liberal dogmas and prefer to promote business interests rather than trade union freedoms and workers’ rights. The Institute provides the ammunition with which to challenge these backward, anti-union elements as well as the ideas on which to build a new progressive employment law framework.

Geoffrey Goodman
The role of the IER in the last two decades has been an essential part of the trade union fight back against the immensely destructive years of the Thatcher period. The research, the publications and general platform offering positive signposts for the trade union recovery and fresh development have all been extremely valuable contributions in helping the trade union movement regain something of its old-self-confidence and promoting the importance of trade unionism in the life of the nation.

Of course the difficulties have always been immense. The Thatcher years left the entire trade union movement weakened in every respect- in membership, bargaining power, financial resources and above all in political clout. It took a long time for all of us to fully recognise the gravity of the Thatcher counter-revolution against the agenda of 1945; equally the recovery of trade union confidence was deeply retarded by the failure of the Blair New Labour Governments effectively to help restore the raison d’etre of trade unionism. It is true that some helpful legislation was introduced [i.e. modest help for trade union recognition, the minimum wage and funding for trade union education and recruitment development]. But there remained huge gaps in what might reasonably have been expected to bring British trade unions into line with the developments in the rest of Europe.

It is in these areas of the negligence and indeed virtual indifference by the Blair Governments that the work, encouragement and serious support from the IER became increasingly vital. No other organisation was offering the kind of credible and informed help, advice and support on the scale and of the quality of the IER. The Institute played an essential role in this key area.

Nor have the challenges facing trade unionism become any easier: if anything they remain as great and as formidable as ever though not necessarily because of continuing inadequate support from a theoretically friendly Government. The global technological revolution continues to dominate social and economic development especially in working conditions to dominate social and economic development especially in working conditions, labour relations and the status of trade resources are under increasing strain; the pressures on trade union leadership and full time officials are probably greater than ever. Therefore there is an obvious and clear need for the IER to expand and improve its role.

In this short essay I would like to concentrate on one aspect for the future agenda of the IER: a more effective presentation of the trade union role in modern society and to bring pressure on all sections of the media to reflect far more accurately and seriously the problems of modern working life in Britain.

There is a truly serious absence of any effective reporting on the problems, challenges, pressures etc. of contemporary working life in Britain. Specialist magazines may from time to time write about these issues but it is now extremely rare to find them neither written about the national [or regional] press nor covered by television or radio. The culture of the old industrial correspondents’ work has virtually disappeared from British journalism –though not from the European media. This has been noted in a nostalgic manner but nothing has been done to stir a revival of good journalism dealing with working life in Britain. The trade unions themselves seem unable to deal with this challenge largely because they see no problems which so far have not received the attention it deserves, and indeed requires.

The media attitude can be summed up quite simply; the disappearance of mass production industries with tens of thousands of workers [often their readers] now scattered and fragmented into smaller often anonymous units has atomised industrial; society. Therefore there are no stories to be told- or, where they exist they no longer amount to characteristic ‘industrial stories’ about working conditions social problems at work etc as was the case in the past. In short; there is no readership – interest apart from disputes which affect consumers, travellers, etc. Of course this is a fallacy so far remaining unchallenged—- though surely demanding to be contested.

The truth is that working problems are as great as ever –often far more so than in the past. There is a widespread ‘social immiseration’ [if I can us that phrase] which goes unrecognised; there are widespread injustices throughout British working life that remain unidentified and certainly unreported and, indeed, the impression has grown that these zones of injustice seem to be beyond the reach of trade unionism. It may well be that the recent months of crisis in the entire financial and market system, with the threat of a massive recession on a scale not known since before World War 2, will revive the attraction of trade unionism among generations who have never before experienced such economic collapse. This could well help to make younger people more receptive to the role and importance of trade unions in a manner we have not known at least since the 1960’s.

I believe these elements all offer a major opportunity for the IER to play a most important role in helping and advising trade unions how to tackle the challenges ahead, to encourage more imaginative trade union leadership and to counter-attack against media indifference. Indeed this suggests a strong case for the IER itself to generate a more pro-active profile across all these areas.

Phil James, Professor of Employment Rights, Oxford Brookes University
I have been involved in the activities of the IER now for over a decade. My involvement began as a working party contributor to the Institute’s path breaking ‘Working Life’ project that led to the promulgation to a comprehensive set of proposals to reform British employment law. Since then, I have served as a member of its Executive Committee and led projects focussed on reviewing the legal framework for occupational health and safety and identifying reforms aimed at its improvement.

These experiences have given me the opportunity to view at close quarters the work that the Institute does and the values that inform its work. They have also led me to come to appreciate the important contribution that the Institute has made to the labour movement in terms of providing a forum through which academics, lawyers and trade unionists can be brought together to reflect critically upon how the rights and interests of working people, and those who represent them, can best be advanced in a rapidly changing world of work. Indeed, in my view, it is not going too far to say that if the Institute didn’t exist, a body like it would need to be invented.

Three other features of my involvement with the Institute also stand out. The first is the impressive way in which the Institute has been led by its long-standing Director, Carolyn Jones. Another is the way in which it has so effectively supported collaborative work among academic researchers, legal practitioners and trade unionists and thereby ensured that what it does is relevant to the interests of working people in the present world of work, as well as being rooted in their experiences and those who represent them. A third is the degree to which the Institute has succeeded in generating such remarkable generosity and comradeship among those who have given, and continue to give, time and unbelievable expertise freely to further its work – a feature that bodes only too well for its future.

All of these attributes are well illustrated by the Robens Revisited project which led to the production of the book Regulating Health and Safety: The Way forward, as well as laying the foundations for the subsequent volume Regulating Health and Safety: An Agenda for Change. For example, over 30 lawyers, academics and trade unionists participated in the working parties that carried out the bulk of this project’s work. They also did so alongside their already busy work schedules. Even more impressively, the project, as a result of these voluntary endeavours, was able to provide the most comprehensive review of the British system of health and safety since that undertaken by the Robens Committee in the early 1970s and produce a set of authoritative recommendations for reform that continue to remain valid and relevant.

John Hendy, the Institute’s founding, and current chair, must look back with much pride at what the Institute has achieved over the last two decades. He identified the need for a labour movement based employment law think tank and set about getting the Institute established to fulfil this function. Even he, however, could surely not have envisaged that twenty years on it is not only thriving, but has over the period come to provide the labour movement with an unparalleled resource in the battle to achieve decent employment standards for all workers, regardless of gender, race, disability or employment status. No wonder that I look back at my own decade long involvement with the Institute with a sense of wonder at how such a small body has achieved, and continues to achieve, so much. Value for money indeed!

Chris Keates, General Secretary, NASUWT
The NASUWT sends warmest congratulations to the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) on its 20th Anniversary.

IER has provided an excellent service since it was established in February 1989.

The IER has more than fulfilled its aim of providing the labour movement with information and education in labour related matters. It has made a major contribution to making progress towards a more equitable legal framework for workers and a recognition that all workers deserve to receive fair pay and good conditions of service

The significant political and legal issues addressed by the Institute are both comprehensive and relevant to the needs of those who work to improve the circumstances of working people. The NASUWT believes that of particular note is the IER’‘s analysis and support of the Aslef v UK case regarding a trade union’s right to expel members of the BNP. For the NASUWT and all who are committed to combating racism and fascism, this was a significant landmark.

John Monks, General Secretary, European Trade Union Confederation
From time to time the IER has tested my good humour by disagreeing with some of my strongest beliefs. In particular, in my view, the IER has underestimated the importance and generally positive contribution of European Union – generated labour law and overestimated what a UK government could be persuaded to do.

Yet none of that is remotely a reason for not warmly congratulating the IER on its 20th birthday and I do that without reservation.

The IER has been a lively contributor to debates over the period since the trade union world suffered the Thatcher series of restrictive labour laws. Sometimes, I have detected perhaps too much nostalgia for the restoration of the legal position ante Thatcher, a position in political reality that no UK Government would have conceded. More’s the pity, perhaps, but like it or not we are burdened by a verdict of history which records that in the 1970s we were too powerful and unable to channel that power constructively and in the interests of the nation as a whole.

I don’t accept history’s verdict but I know how deeply embedded it is in mainstream British politics. Of course history is written by the winners and the conservatives were quick to write their version but they could use excerpts from the political biographies of prominent labour leaders of the era saying much the same thing.

-Over the past 20 years, the main gains that we have made have been from European Union generated laws (save for trade union recognition and the National Minimum Wage). These include pro rata equality for part-time, fixed term, and now temporary agency workers; extended rights to sex and race equality and to equal pay; new rights on information and consultation and on strengthened European Works Councils; and the transfer of the undertaking laws._

There are real problems with recent decisions of the European Court of Justice but I have absolutely no doubt that the European balance sheet remains positive on worker rights. But as companies go global we need to go further and establish European wide rights to collective bargaining and industrial action based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The sooner this is incorporated fully into UK law the better.

Brian Bercusson was often my tutor in these pro-European beliefs and the IER and the ETUC alike will miss his lively and stimulating contributions. I hope that others in the IER will take up the challenge to fill the void left by Brian.

So now, the IER leaves behind its teenage years and approaches the age of maturity, I wish it well. May it continue to stimulate, and no doubt irritate, me and many others for many years ahead.

Jim Mortimer, Honorary Vice-President, IER
The history of the Institute of Employment Rights is a success story. From the outset the Institution was determined that its role should be informative and stimulating. It has always sought a high standard of factual reliability in its many publications.

Concern for employment rights should have no politics boundaries. Employment rights are human rights. The Institute takes inspiration from those who in earlier generations contributed to progress. They include, for example. Robert Owen, factory owner and social visionary, Lord Shaftesbury and the Tory radical, Richard Oastler, who campaigned for legislation to protect women and child workers in the textile industries, the Liberal Ministers who supported the historic Trades Disputes Act of 1906, and early trade unionists including the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the leaders of the trade union struggles of the 1880s and 1890s, Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, Will Thorne and the match girls of the Bryant and May factory.

The advances made in employment rights following the First World War for many years after the Second World War were due primarily to social pressures but the form which they took owed much to investigator including the Whitley Committee reports of the 1917 and 1918 and the Beveridge report published in 1942. The Institute now provides a continuing informed commentary on employment rights in Britain. It has also published for a number of years an annual review of labour law.

A noteworthy feature of the Institute has been its success in bringing together lawyers, academic specialists and trade union activists in cooperative effort in support of the Institute’s objectives. They have all contributed knowledge and experience to give the Institute its distinctive role.

It is this cooperative effort that has made it possible for the Institute’s publications and seminars to embrace a very wide range issues related to employment rights. They include, for example, rights relating to trade union organisation and activity, collective bargaining, disputes legislative provisions affecting minimum wages, conditions, hours of work, rights of women employees, family-friendly policies, health and safety at work, various forms of discrimination in employment, the impact on employment of European and international declarations and legislation surveillance at work, consultative rights, protection against unfair dismissal, procedures in the event of redundancy, the transfer of employment, pension rights and grievance and disciplinary procedures.

This list is by no means exhaustive but it gives some idea of the Institute’s work. A feature of the Institute’s activity in recent years has been the growth and popularity of seminars. They provide an area in which people dealing with day-to-day problems in the workplace can discuss issues with lectures experienced in the application and interpretation of the law. All who participate benefit from this exchange.

Throughout its existence the Institute has been extremely well served by its principal offices. The success of the Institute has been due in no small measure to the leadership given by the officers and the dedication of the staff.

Margaret Prosser
In 1989 when the Institute of Employment Rights first appeared we were almost 10 years into a Tory administration which paid scant regard to the rights of working people. Punitive legislation and high unemployment left ordinary folk in no position to feel positive about their working futures.

Even low paid workers, reliant on the protection of wages councils were exposed to market forces when the 1993 Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act abolished this minimum protection. I know people employed in hotels and bars who didn’t get a pay rise from that day until 6 years later when the national Minimum Wage came into force in April 1999.

Opportunities for change when a labour government was elected in May 1997 were enhanced by the work done in the intervening years by the IER, by unions and by sympathetic lawyers and academics. Preparation for what was required enabled the pressure to go on pretty immediately and the signing of the European Social Chapter in ’97 allowed progressive developments from Europe to benefit working people in the UK.

Women and other more vulnerable workers have relied over the years on legal developments in Europe to provide protection and general rights. The TGWU’s campaign in the 1980’s supported by the IER called for “ full time rights for part time workers and permanent rights for temporary workers”. Part time rights arrived in the UK in April 1998 via a European Council Directive under the Social Chapter. Temporary or “agency “ workers have had to wait rather longer for protection, the government nervous of the likely affect on “flexibility” while some employers used the lack of protection as a mechanism for divide and rule. Campaigns and political pressure by the unions and organisations like IER have eventually won the day and legislation is to be introduced.

The Working Time Directive is another measure which has impacted positively on workers with less bargaining power. It is truly shocking that prior to this protection there were workers in 20th century UK who had never had a paid holiday break.

Since the election of a labour government in May 1997 ministers and others have of course been more receptive to the principles of fairness and equality within the world of work. But most change comes about via presentation of the case, by campaigning, by lobbying and influencing. Through its work in producing written arguments, by holding seminars and debates and by keeping up the political pressure, the IER has played a major role in helping to deliver a better deal for working people in the United Kingdom.

Michael Seifert
It is hard to believe that the Institute of Employment Rights is 20 years old. During that time it has played a vital role as educator, campaigner and strategist for the Labour movement. Few organisations live up to the grandiose titles they give themselves but the Institute more than fulfils everything that is stated in its title – namely it stands unequivocally for workers rights on a solid theoretical foundation.

During more than half of the life of the Institute we have had a Labour government. It is a matter of great disappointment (although not necessarily surprise) that after a decade the party in power – funded mainly by working class organisations – has not perceptively improved the employment rights of workers in this country. Hand in hand with the deregulation of financial institutions – with catastrophic results – the trade unions have been shackled in their right to free collective bargaining and independent organisation by anti-union laws which have shamefully been a source of pride to New Labour. A government which seeks to attract foreign capital by boasting about the deregulation of capital markets coupled with and the curbing of employment rights should not be surprised if it receives a bloody nose from its natural supporters at the next election.

In this morass of cynicism and disillusionment the Institute of Employment Rights stands out as one of a handful of beacons of hope. More strength to your arm in your vital irreplaceable role.

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union
PCS are proud to be associated with the 20th Anniversary of the Institute. The IER’s commitment to improving workers’ rights and promoting trade union freedoms has been steadfast.

According to the IER’s Constitution, ‘The object of the Institute shall be to advance the education of the public in labour law, work, unemployment, trade unions and related issues.’ And the IER has certainly delivered.

PCS has used, encouraged and supported IER’s substantial range of publications, briefings, seminars and educational courses. Through them, the Institute has argued relentlessly and authoritatively for workers’ rights. The immediate future will be difficult for workers and unions. We have no doubt the Institute will rise to the challenge and offer the labour movement informed policy ideas for a better world of work.

Derek Simpson, Joint General Secretary, Unite the Union
The Institute of Employment Rights has made a great contribution to the development of left policy, particularly in support of the trade union movement, over the last 20 years.

By bringing together academics, specialist lawyers, and trade unionists themselves, IER has provided a forum for discussion and exchange unlike any other. Where else to we get together across those divides to debate things like Neoliberalism and Labour Law?!

Their work on trade union rights is an area which has been particularly close to my heart both as a trade union officer for many years and now as a General Secretary.

IER’s continued importance and relevance is exemplified by their current leadership on the issue of responding to the European Court of Justice decisions such as Viking, Laval, Ruffert and Luxembourg, which I believe present the biggest threat to collective rights and worker solidarity that we face today. Their fringe on this issue at the last TUC Conference helped inform the debate inside the conference when I put Unite’s motion on the cases. I understand that IER is due to publish a book on the cases in November this year and I look forward to that.

In terms of recent domestic politics and worker’s rights; their information flow and policy documents on the Employment Bill have assisted in our parliamentary work trying to make the most of important opportunity to gain what improvements we can, including getting the government to properly implement the decision of the ECHR in ASLEF v UK so that we can expel fascists from the union movement and concentrate our energies on uniting workers and combating racism and xenophobia in the process.

Similarly, IER has made an important contribution to the thinking and debate on rights for temporary and agency workers.

Another example of their timely and insightful contribution to trade union policy is their recent publication on equal pay: a policy which Unite, and I personally, am deeply committed to achieving. IER are helping us wade through the mine field created by non-win no fee lawyers who are seeking to depict individual rights to equal pay as in conflict with collective rights, when in reality we know that the only way to deliver equal pay for the mass of workers is through trade union organisation and representation, as well as showing how privatisation and contracting out is detrimental to workers rights, equal pay being abut one example of how people lose out.

I welcome this opportunity to applaud the work of the Institute of Employment Rights, and register my thanks in particular to its Director, officers and all those who have given their time and effort to producing the publications, events, and now its excellent website. I am sure that the next 20 years hold grave challenges for us in the labour movement, and I look forward to IER continuing to play its vital role in helping us through.

Grahame Smith, General Secretary, Scottish Trades Union Congress
The STUC is delighted to have been associated with the Institute of Employment Rights over the last twenty years and recognises the importance of the work of the Institute in influencing thinking in all areas of labour rights.

From its infancy, during the worst attacks on our labour laws and trade union rights by the Thatcher Government, the Institute of Employment Rights has worked with trade unions, their lawyers and academics to campaign for improved rights for British workers.

The STUC is proud to be associated with the Institute and welcomes their attendance at our Annual Congress and their contribution to Congress through fringe events, more recently in partnership with the United Campaign to Repeal the Anti Trade Union Laws.

Sadly, despite over ten years of a Labour Government, British workers still have less rights than their counterparts in most European countries, have less protection as a result of the Government’s deregulation agenda and continue to suffer from some of the most draconian trade union laws in the developed world.

The Institute’s research assistance and support for trade unions developing policies and campaigns on employment issues helps our fight for fairer and safer employment has been invaluable. The Institute of Employment Rights has influenced trade union thinking in many areas of employment, in addition to trade union rights, including equality issues, health and safety and employment rights for agency and temporary workers.

While the STUC welcomes the progress of the Temporary and Agency Workers Bill, perhaps with some concern the commencement date is not until October this year, many employers still take advantage of ineffective and under-resourced enforcement agencies to exploit workers.

Over thirty years after the introduction of the Equal Pay Act, the Health and safety at Work Act and the Sex Discrimination Act we still witness employers paying little attention to their obligations to ensure equality in the workplace or the need to protect their workers from injury, ill health or disease caused by work.

More recently the introduction of the minimum wage was welcomed across the trade union movement, however, low levels of enforcement failed to prevent unscrupulous employers from exploiting vulnerable workers, many of whom do not have the advantage of union membership.

Trade unions will continue to campaign for improved legislation in all aspects of employment law, building on our proud history of collectively securing fair and safe workplaces for the benefits of our members.

In order to achieve this the continued existence of the Institute of Employment Rights is vitally important to the trade union movement if we are to identify weaknesses in current legislation and secure improvements for the benefits of trade union members and the wider society.

Mary Stacey, Employment Tribunal Judge
Happy 20th Birthday Institute of Employment Rights!
I first got involved with you when I started working for Thompsons about 15 years ago. A number of things drew me in. I loved the way the Institute forged leading academic labour law perspectives with trade union aims and involved workaday lawyer practitioners like myself. It gave meaning and strategic purpose to the case law on the ground and a framework, as well as a campaigning edge. On a personal level Cad’s warmth, drive and charisma was contagious and bound things all together.

I especially enjoyed the publications sub committee – our meetings were like the labour law equivalent of The Late Show – with Cad playing the role of Kirsty Wark and Bob Simpson as Tom Paulin.

The IER is sometimes a lonely voice in a hostile climate and the publications in particular give voice to important issues that get insufficient attention. The challenges to collective labour rights and the prevailing political climate have made the Institute’s work hard. But its feisty and dogged work have brought notable successes, not least the vital work around the Wilson amendment and the outlawing of sweeteners for relinquishing bargaining rights and the issue of BNP membership and union discipline.

The sense of urgency rightly remains – labour insecurity, the vulnerability of unorganized labour and endemic discrimination and pay inequality in a creaking legal system are very pressing concerns. The dust has yet to settle from the ECJ Viking and Laval cases.

The challenge for the future will be to find political or legal solutions and maintain attention on labour rights in such a globalised world.
Good luck!

Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive, Professional Footballers’ Association
When the IER came into existence twenty years ago, the political landscape was somewhat different to today. The Thatcher Government had been re-elected for a third time with a huge majority and at that time it would have been almost unthinkable to consider the prospect of Labour similarly dominating the political scene.

The succession of anti-trade union laws emanating from a hostile administration required a response from the Labour movement but many of the traditional ways of fighting back had failed. The emergence of the IER was important and has been enduring because it has, through reasoned argument and the use of compelling data and information been able to put forward a coherent and intellectually robust case for a more equitable framework of labour law.

It was always going to be difficult to effect change during the Thatcher years as the ideology and blinkered dogma inherent in Tory industrial relations policy at this time stifled any genuine non-partisan debate in this area. However, this did not mean that the debate was dead and the IER provided a focus and forum during this time to discuss and formulate policies and ideas that have been accepted and implemented today.

Of course, the election of a Labour government in 1997 after many years in opposition was welcomed throughout the Labour movement but it was also apparent that the years of ‘beer and sandwiches’ at Number 10 was never going to be re-instated as a way of dealing with employment issues. The Blair government’s wooing of business and the City saw to that and although the kind of workers rights and laws that the IER was calling for was never going to be fully implemented under New Labour, the IER can be proud of its role and work in lobbying government that has effected real improvements for working people thus far. The minimum wage and protection against unfair dismissal are good examples of this.

Further progress has been made under the Premiership of Gordon Brown but the real danger is that a change of government at the next election could halt and possibly reverse the positive developments of recent years. Having said that, the financial crisis has shaken many accepted norms and has definitely changed the nature of the debate in this area.

Looking forward, the PFA will continue to support the valuable work of the IER as well as making an important contribution to the debate. A new constitutional settlement combining the direct enforcement of collective agreements with a clear set of rights and responsibilities for trade unions could ensure a harmonious period in industrial relations and at the same time recognise the essential and pivotal role that trade unions play in society. This approach has worked well in football where our collective bargaining agreements, particularly in relation to TV rights and contractual protection have been instrumental in developing a conducive and positive relationship with the employers. Although it is always difficult to fully replicate these agreements across other industries, the great strides made by the PFA in playing a leading role in the growth and success of our national game provides a useful template for others to follow.

Robert Taylor former employment editor of the Financial Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously labour editor of the Observer from 1976 to 1987.
Twenty years ago most of Britain’s trade unions remained ambivalent about the use of the law in the conduct of industrial relations. In their attitudes they reflected deeply rooted negative feelings in the Labour Movement about the role of the courts and the state in regulating their affairs dating back more than a century. Unlike in much of continental Europe our trade unions did not champion legally enforceable universal rights in the workplace for workers. Instead they believed workers were best able to protect and advance their interests through the use of collective bargaining and strong trade union organisation. But this so-called voluntarist tradition of industrial relations made it difficult in the period after the Second World War to develop a positive relationship between Labour governments and the trade unions.

The admirable activities of the Institute in its first twenty years have been concerned to educate the trade union movement in the positive use of the law in creating an equitable balance at work between capital and labour that would further worker interests. At first the Institute aroused suspicion and doubt about many labour lawyers as well as the TUC and some trade unions. They regarded it wrongly as an organisation that threatened their own position from the left. Some worried that some of the leading figures in the Institute were – for all their protestations to the contrary – hostile to the use of the law in industrial relations.

But over time such concerns were seen to be unfounded. The Institute has argued – through its wide range of impressive publications and conferences – that trade unions and workers need to make use of the law to further their interests. Through detailed work on labour regulation such as the transfer of undertakings from the public to private ownership and the development of a national minimum wage the Institute has proved an invaluable body in changing the trade union policy agenda into constructive ways. Admirably the Institute has also championed the cause of international labour rights both inside the European Union but also in the global econmy.Its work has shamed the New Labour governments since 1997 that either turned their backs on or downgraded the importance of labour standards and the cause of ‘decent’ work.

In recent years the Institute has done its best to mobilise trade union support for a Trade Union Freedom Bill, a modest measure designed to assist organised labour in strengthening worker representation. Sadly the Blair and Brown governments did their best to emasculate or obstruct any siuch advance. In a badly needed renewal of labour rights at a time of an economic depression as bad or even worse than the 1930s, the Institute should play a key role. Its activities since its foundation make it an important part of a progressive alliance.

Sarah Veale, Head, Equality and Employment Rights, TUC
“If it didn’t exist it would have to be invented”, so goes the saying. This is very much the case with the IER, an organisation with whom I have worked closely for a number of years. It is essential for trade union activists that there is an independent organisation that conducts original research into areas of employment protection, carefully examining the current law to see what is in need of improvement. The IER has attracted an impressive array of academics, lawyers and senior trade unionists to work on their behalf, using their expertise to inform and educate trade union activists.

The IER provides essential analysis of proposed Government legislation, combined with experienced political commentary. Materials are always written in an accessible style and link into real working lives so that they are active materials for union reps and officers.

Trade unionists have also benefitted from the excellent conferences and seminars that the IER provides. These are always topical, always have top rate speakers, always have good accompanying documentation and always allow and encourage open debate and questioning of the speakers. To attract senior lawyers, union general secretaries and leading academics to speak at the conferences is a fantastic achievement.

The IER is also an organisation that has steeped itself in the history of our Movement. The Institute led the activities organised to celebrate and commemorate the 2006 Trade Disputes Act and was the first to make the very important link between that legislation and what we are still campaigning for over a hundred years later.

I have been privileged to work with a great group of trade unionists on the Executive Committee, and to take part in discussions and decisions about where the next set of activities, research, campaigning should be focussed. There is always too much to choose from but we are good at focussing in on the essentials. The IER has always recognised the need for flexibility though and adapts quickly when necessary to meet new circumstances. The speed with which the IER focussed on the current economic situation was a good example of political nous and relevance.

The other key feature of the IER is the constant awareness of the international context within which the UK trade union Movement operates. This is seen in the expertise on international laws and conventions and institutions as well as a sharp political awareness of global labour issues.

I’m delighted to offer my congratulations to the IER on their 20th Anniversary– let’s keep going for many more years.

Tony Woodley, Joint General Secretary, Unite
I am delighted to congratulate the Institute of Employment Rights on its twentieth anniversary. It has been fighting on one of the most important issues of our time – workers and trade union rights – in a difficult and sometimes hostile climate.

For much of that time we suffered under a viciously anti-working class Tory government – and we should never forget just how disastrous they were.

And for most of the years since we saw the back of the Conservative government, we have been led by a Prime Minister who boasted about how draconian British trade union legislation is – and who left in place many of the main Tory anti-union provisions.

Through it all, the IER has helped keep the flag of workplace justice flying. It has made a critical contribution to building up a head of steam around the issues of major concern.

When I was elected as General Secretary of the T&G back in 2003 I put employment rights to the top of my agenda.

For too long we as a movement had passed motions at conferences condemning the Tory anti-union laws but we made little progress because we did not take the issue seriously enough.

For too long we just put up with New Labour’s refusal to address the inequalities and injustices facing trade unions in this country.

We have come a long way since 2003 – and much of the change is down to the work of the IER.

We have a TUC policy that calls for a comprehensive campaign to roll back the unfair laws of the Tory years

We have had over 180 MPs signing up for a parliamentary motion in support of a Trade Union Freedom bill, including solidarity action.

And we have even won the Labour Party conference to support decent employment rights in 2005, following the disgraceful treatment of the Gate Gourmet workers that year.

Those hard working, mostly Asian, women at Gate Gourmet were locked out and sacked by an unscrupulous employer looking to make job cuts on the cheap. But they – and their union – fought back and we helped create a climate where the issue of solidarity can be raised anew.

It just shows that mass action refreshes the parts of the body politic that policy alone cannot reach.

And that is why Unite is committed to working so closely with the IER. We need your ideas, analysis and research to empower our work and give it political focus.

At the same time we know that it is when workers have the confidence to stand up and fight that real change is secured.

Our struggles now move forward in the difficult conditions of a savage recession, caused by the excesses of capitalism.

We have made it clear that this crisis is not going to be solved on the backs of ordinary working people.

We have produced detailed plans to defend jobs and living standards as the slump starts. And part of that programme is defending and extending employment rights, so unions can really give our people the protection they need.

I know that IER will be our partner in that struggle, and that under a real labour government we will secure our objectives.

This website relies on the use of cookies to function correctly. We understand your continued use of the site as agreement to this.