By David Shrimpton
Hospitality employers are worried that a clause in the Government's Fairness at Work Bill will let in trade unions "through the back door".
Last month's White Paper on the subject included the proposal that employees be allowed union representation at disciplinary hearings. Some firms, such as City Centre Restaurants, expressly forbid union officials from accompanying employees.
The TGWU trade union this week began writing to hotel and catering employers, asking for meetings to discuss how the proposal would work in practice. Letters have already been sent to 25 companies where it has members, including City Centre, Hilton and the Savoy Group.
But some employers have reacted angrily.
"I'm strongly against the proposal," said David Potts, human resources director at City Centre. "It's going to lead to far more long-winded procedures. It will also promote union membership, which is not something I wish to support. If there's a problem, the right people to sort it out are the employer and employee."
Potts added that he had recently reinstated several people who had been dismissed. "If appeals procedures are proper and not a sham, then there are avenues that work for people to seek redress."
Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive at the British Hospitality Association, said some employers would be nervous that allowing union officials to attend disciplinary hearings could open "a back door to union involvement in their business".
He added: "If the unions can get their name known, people are more likely to join or vote for union recognition in one of these ballots."
Hilton said it was reviewing its procedures in light of the White Paper. The Savoy Group refused to comment.
Dave Turnbull, regional organiser for the TGWU, said it had members who would want to exercise their new right to union representation at disciplinary hearings. The union wanted to speak to firms before the law was passed in order to avoid a "logistical nightmare".