Trade Unions - Presence and Recognition

Peninsula Team

July 09 2015

"An employee is making noise about being a member of a trade union, do we have to recognise the union?" The issue of trade union recognition usually arises where the union wants to negotiate with the employer about pay and working conditions on behalf of a group of workers.

For this negotiation to take place the union needs to be recognised by the employer. There is no legal obligation to formally recognise a union within the workplace, however there are steps a union can take to force the issue where certain conditions are met. A union can become recognised by two methods; either voluntary recognition or statutory recognition.

At first instance, the trade union will approach the employer to recognise it voluntarily via an agreement between the two parties. On receiving a request, employers will have 10 working days to respond and they can respond in three different ways; either agree, reject the request or refuse the initial request but agree to negotiate an alternative agreement.

Where voluntary recognition is agreed to, there's a further 20 working days for an agreement to be reached over which employees the union represents, i.e. the bargaining unit, and whether the union is recognised for collective bargaining on terms and conditions. If the request for voluntary recognition is refused, or a negotiated alternative cannot be agreed to, the union can apply to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) for statutory recognition.

The CAC will accept the application, and force the hand of the employer, where certain requirements are met, though the application can be challenged. An application for statutory recognition can only be made where the union has already made a formal application for recognition.

The business employs a minimum of 21 workers; the union has at least 10% membership within the proposed bargaining unit and is likely to attract majority support in a ballot.

A union can only make an application for recognition once every three years. If the CAC awards recognition to the trade union, the employer will be required to bargain with the union in matters of pay, hours and holiday for at least three years. Once the three year period has passed, the employer or workers within the bargaining unit can apply to the CAC for derecognition of the union.

Though many employers are wary of unions, a constructive agreement can facilitate effective co-operation and negotiation rather than bargaining with a number of workers to achieve collective agreement. If you need any clarification on this issue then contact us on 0800 028 2420.

Suggested Resources