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U.K. to Examine Labor-Union Picketing Tactics, Maude Says

Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. will investigate intimidatory tactics used by labor unions with a view to overhauling the nation’s employment laws, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said.

Activities such as picketing executives homes and harassing their families risk deterring investment in Britain, Maude said in an e-mail. A succession of disputes at Ineos Group Holdings SA’s Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland have also increased concern in government about the security of Britain’s infrastructure, he said.

“Allegations about trade union industrial intimidation tactics, including attempts to sabotage businesses’ supply chains and harass employers’ families are deeply concerning,” Maude said. “We need an independent review to get to the bottom of these activities, as well as to look at the role played by government, employers and employees in industrial disputes.”

With 18 months to go before the next election, Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives are seeking to highlight the Labour opposition’s links to unions as they try to portray it as anti-business and dominated by unelected union leaders.

“This has nothing to do with good industrial relations and is simply part of the Conservative Party’s general-election campaign,” Trades Union Congress General Secretary Frances O’Grady said in a statement. “We already have some of the most restrictive union laws in the democratic world.”

Unite’s Leverage

The Unite trade union, which is one of Labour’s largest donors, and was involved in the Grangemouth dispute, has developed a tactic it calls “Leverage,” in which it targets customers, investors and other contacts of businesses that it deems to be behaving “immorally.”

“Leverage is a process whereby the Union commits resources and time to making all interested parties aware of the treatment received by Unite members at the hands of an employer,” Unite said on its website. “Those interested parties may include shareholders of the employer; competitors of the employer; communities within which the employer operates; customers of the employer and the market place of the employer.”

Cameron’s office said employment lawyer Bruce Carr will chair the government’s review and he been asked to appoint a panel including representatives of employers and unions. Carr will have a free choice of who he wants to join him on the panel and is expected to report within six months, the office said.

‘Clearly Untoward’

“I am a huge supporter of the way in which responsible trades unions, responsible businesses have actually maintained strikingly good industrial relations during recent years,” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told BBC Television’s “Andrew Marr” program today. “But there are irresponsible trade unions, and something clearly untoward happened at Grangemouth, and there are some irresponsible business practices such as blacklisting, and this inquiry, run independently of government, will look at this.”

Ineos Group said on Oct. 15 it was shutting the Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemical site located on the Firth of Forth. A deal to restart operations was reached on Oct. 25 after Unite agreed to the company’s demands for a three-year no-strike pledge and changes to pensions.

To contact the reporter on this story: Thomas Penny in London at tpenny@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Langan at hlangan@bloomberg.net

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