- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

Workers at the British Embassy yesterday took their fight over union representation to a global stage, filing a complaint with the International Labor Organization.

A majority of the 630 nondiplomatic employees at the embassy, consulates and U.N. mission decided Feb. 23 to affiliate with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, but they are without a contract and embassy officials aren’t negotiating with the union on a labor agreement.

“We’re not asking for the world. We’re just asking for basic bargaining rights,” said Andy Banks, organizing director of the engineers’ union.

Employees at the embassy also are represented by Britain’s Association of United States Engaged Staff, which negotiates between management and other employees but isn’t a union.

In its complaint, the union asks the ILO, an agency of the United Nations, to determine whether the British government violated labor standards by refusing to bargain with workers.

“We’re disappointed. We had started what we thought was a constructive dialogue,” said Peter Hayes, the head of administration at the embassy.

Embassy officials have not negotiated a new labor agreement with the workers because they do not believe employees are covered by the National Labor Relations Act.

Embassy officials also argue that ILO standards do not compel them to bargain with employees.

Mr. Banks said embassy officials and the British government can’t have it both ways.

“You can’t have a group of people who are not subject to the laws of this country or Great Britain. These people are in labor law limbo,” he said.

The complaint includes the signature of AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, who will intervene in the dispute.

Mr. Sweeney will be in London today for a meeting of the Trade Union Advisory Committee, a constitutional body of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The countries are preparing for the July 6-8 meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries.

Mr. Sweeney plans to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, host of the meeting, but he won’t speak with him about the labor dispute. Instead, Mr. Sweeney has scheduled a meeting with Mr. Blair’s staff today to discuss it, AFL-CIO spokeswoman Lane Windham said.

In addition to negotiating a new labor agreement, the union wants to hold discussions about new work rules that took effect April 1 at the British Embassy. The embassy’s decision to put new work rules in place without consulting the union also violates ILO standards, according to the union’s complaint.

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