PETER HAIN sought to soothe union anger over public sector pay last night by warning them things would be worse under the Conservatives.
Speaking at a TUC conference in Brighton that has been dominated by the pay dispute, Mr Hain admitted that Labour had made “mistakes” in office but that unions should remember that “far, far, more should unite than divide us”.
The trade unions have warned of looming strike action over a string of below-inflation pay settlements. Staff at Mr Hain’s Department for Work and Pensions have already rejected their deal and are likely to be balloted on industrial action.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown told delegates on Monday there would be no compromise, arguing that the pay deals were vital to fight inflation.
Mr Hain, who is also Secretary of State for Wales, did not address the pay issue directly but told the conference, “Your members have been angry from time to time.
“I understand that. Over the years we made mistakes. We got some things wrong. But, our achievements together dwarf any disagreements. Far, far, more should unite than divide us.”
The alternative was a Conservative Party that had put John Redwood in charge of reviewing economic policy, he said, adding, “Here is a man who wants to water down the Health and Safety at Work Act, abolishing protections for working people; who wants to scrap the regulation of financial services that protects consumers; who wants to take Britain out of the Social Chapter, and back to the no-rights culture of the last Tory government.”
Mr Hain has always fostered close links with the unions, and campaigned hard for their votes in this summer’s contest for Labour’s deputy leadership, which he lost to Harriet Harman.
He has consistently argued that the historic link between the trade unions and the Labour Party should be maintained, although Cabinet colleague John Hutton warned at the weekend the connection was “not set in concrete”.
Mr Brown is also thought to be considering limiting the unions’ ability to introduce last-minute motions to the Labour Party conference.
Meanwhile, Mr Hain yesterday pledged action to tackle the growing number of deaths on building sites.
A special safety forum will be held on Monday involving unions, employers and the Health and Safety Commission, he said.
“Figures out today from the Health and Safety Executive show that nearly one in three construction refurbishment sites inspected put the lives of workers at risk – this is completely unacceptable.”
As Mr Hain prepared to give his speech, copies of redundancy letters apparently sent to Remploy workers were thrust into his hand.
Phil Davies, national officer of the GMB, walked up to the platform and poured a sackful of the redundancy notes next to where the Neath MP was sitting.
Remploy, which employs disabled workers, is hoping to cut costs and see more disabled workers get into mainstream employment. As many as 43 factories are threatened with closure.
Mr Hain told the conference it was the first he had seen of the letters, which he insisted he had not authorised.
“I have not seen them before. I am glad you have shown them to me – I want justice for Remploy workers.”
He also announced that Roger Poole, a former senior official with Unison, would chair talks between Remploy management and the unions.
Five factories in Wales are due to close, but one, in Bridgend, has been told it can stay open.
The Conservatives meanwhile stepped up their attack on the Union Modernisation Fund, which distributes public money to the unions.
The party said £2.8m had been given to the fund this week.
Alan Duncan, the party’s enterprise spokesman, said, “This is a classic Gordon Brown con trick.
“One day he’s standing before the unions spinning that he’s going to be tough.
“The next day the small print shows he has sneaked out another £2.8m of taxpayers’ cash to keep the unions sweet.”
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