Britain sets code to curb union abuses

British workers with a mind to strike will soon have to face a government-sponsored code of industrial conduct designed to curb trade union abuses.

Far-reaching new ground rules have been published by Employment Secretary James Prior.Already, However, leaders of the employers' organization, the Confederation of British Industry, are saying the code of conduct is not strict enough and must be tightened.

Trade union leaders are promising to battle the new provisions and force modifications.

The Prior rules say trade union picket lines should not include more than six workers. The police would be given wide discretion to limit the number of pickets, and workers refusing to join in strike action would be protected against intimidation by fellow workers or trade union officials.

Even more controversial is the code's provision on the closed shop system under which unions seek to limit job opportunities solely to their own membership. The new code offers trade union branches the right to review closed-shop arrangements at regular intervals and end the system if a majority so demands.

Employment Secretary Prior has worked for months devising the code. In the last phase of the former Labour government there was industrial anarchy as mass pickets were organized by union leaders, leading to violence.

The new rules are aimed at making such excesses impossible.

Mr. Prior has decided to adopt a cautious approach in imposing the new guidelines. He intends to seek parliamentary approval for them, but he is leaving the door open for consultation with leaders of both sides of industry. Trade unions and industrial managers have until October to suggest amendments. When the code is finally promulgated it will be admissible in evidence in court actions arising from industrial disputes.

The core of the new system is the attempt to protect the rights of the individual worker in the face of attempts to force him to hew to a union line. Instead of being obliged to pay dues to a trade union, he or she would be able to give an equivalent amount to charity.

Secret ballots would be used much more frequently to decide on industrial action -- a provision toward which union leaders and shop stewards are especially hostile.

Trade union leaders received the Prior guidelines with considerable hostility. Len Murray, the general secretary, said the government was trying to put trade unions in a straitjacket.

Privately, however, union leaders are not hopeful that they will be able to resist the main thrust of the government's intentions and will be happy if they can prevent a stricter set of guidelines, more congenial to the CBI, from being substituted for the ones Mr. Prior has published.

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