Union-busting Virgin Media bosses stood accused of mounting a dirty tricks campaign to ensure they won a referendum to grab representation rights from workers today.
Engineers at the firm voted for derecognition of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) by the slimmest of majorities - 52 per cent for and 48 per cent against.
Staff said company directors had piled massive pressure on them to abandon trade union recognition in compulsory meetings in the run-up to the vote.
According to CWU members managers were ordered to call off-duty workers to bully them into voting Yes to derecognition.
Virgin Media said 2,164 engineers had voted in the ballot which ended last Friday, an 80 per cent turnout.
A spokesman for the firm claimed that bosses had received "strong feedback" from some engineers that they no longer wished trade unions to negotiate their pay and conditions.
"Remaining, or becoming, a union member will continue to be an individual choice, but all our people will be represented by their colleagues in our independent, well-established staff forums which have an inclusive voice in the company's decision-making," he said.
But the CWU hit back, telling the Morning Star that Virgin Media's campaign for derecognition had been spearheaded by veteran union-bashing company director Ricky Hobden.
Mr Hobden is currently a regional director at the communications firm, but CWU says it has evidence revealing his role in a crackdown on unions while at Cable and Wireless.
The union alleges that Mr Hobden forked out thousands of pounds to hire US "labour consultants" Burke Group to try to destroy trade unions at his former firm.
Burke Group boasts on its website: "We have participated in over 800 elections and employees in 96 per cent have have either voted No, decertified or experienced petition withdrawal."
CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: "Today is a poor day for democracy.
"We're bitterly disappointed in the way that Virgin Media has conducted this flawed referendum on a basic human right for trade union recognition at work.
"Virgin Media has stolen union recognition from its staff.
"Even with the non-level playing field they used to run this referendum they didn't manage to get a ringing endorsement for their position."
Mr Kerr added defiantly: "Our message to Virgin Media, its staff and our members is clear - the CWU isn't going anywhere."
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Denying employees union recognition and using tactics more commonplace in the US - where Virgin America and Sir Richard Branson have been rightly lambasted for trying to undermine the TWU transport union - is never going to be a recipe for good workplace relations."
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