General council prepares to establish post-Saddam free labour movement, as UK firms start to secure contracts.
The TUC IS TO send a delegation to Iraq in an attempt to unionise the labour force working on the rebuilding of the country.

The TUC general council is planning to send a group of officials to Basra as part of a drive by the international labour movement to ensure that proper health and safety standards are in place in Iraq.

The council has still to decide when the delegation will go because of continuing uncertainty over security. Skirmishes are still taking place between British troops and Iraqis.

George Brumwell, the UCATT general secretary who sits on the TUC council, confirmed that the TUC was in talks to provide union representation in Iraq, and added that the delegation would have a fact-finding brief.

He said the ultimate aim would be to plant the seeds of a free labour movement in the country – independent trade unions were the target of violent repression under Saddam Hussein's regime.

Brumwell added that UCATT would be involved in the TUC's discussions but refused to be drawn on whether it would post a full-time representative in Iraq.

The move has received backing from the Foreign Office, which has requested that the UN's International Labour Organisation and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions became involved in the creation of democratic trade unions in Iraq.

The TUC is in talks over plans to provide union representation in Iraq

George Brumwell, UCATT

In the past, the country has had a strong labour movement. In 1959, 1 million people joined a May Day march in Baghdad.

News of the TUC move came as a government-backed trade mission, led by consulting engineer Halcrow, returned from a trip to identify potential reconstruction work.

The Iraq Industry Working Group, an organisation set up by the government to help firms win subcontracting work in Iraq, was led by Halcrow chairman Tony Allum.

It included a representative from engineer Black & Veatch and Trade Partners UK, the government agency responsible for promoting British business abroad.

A TPUK spokesperson said: "The visit was a small, exploratory mission held in collaboration with our office in Baghdad. Its aim was to look at the business environment in Iraq to see what role the UK private sector could play in contributing to the reconstruction of the country."

Several companies have secured contracts in Iraq so far, including Mowlem, quantity surveyor Baker Wilkins and consultant Mott MacDonald.

It is understood that Mowlem has won a £3m contract to refurbish a hotel in Basra for use by troops.