Any employee can join a union if they want to. They don’t need permission from the company to do so and can join any union they wish. Employees don’t have to join a union. The fact that employees belong to a union doesn’t automatically mean that their union must be consulted on issues affecting the workforce but it does mean that they have the right to be accompanied by their union representative in disciplinary and grievance hearings.

Unions can be more heavily involved if they are recognised and employees might ask for union recognition. Union recognition and involvement can be very positive and working together unions and companies can have a very beneficial impact on the company and the workplace. However, as with all things, this will often come down to the individuals involved and some companies can relate stories where the union officials have caused or exacerbated a problem. As a company you need to give careful consideration to how you wish to approach union recognition.

Recognition can be either voluntary or compulsory. You need to determine the bargaining unit, which is the group of employees the union would be representing, and the scope of their remit, including whether or not they are recognised for the purposes of collective bargaining. You can look at voluntary recognition either before or after there has been a formal request for statutory recognition. There are different statutory protections depending on whether or not there has been a statutory request for recognition. Where recognition has been voluntary without any formal request for statutory recognition an employer can choose to withdraw that recognition. De-recognition is more complicated once a statutory request has been made.

If a request for statutory recognition is made and is not agreed then the union can go to the Central Arbitration Committee for a decision. Any application for recognition will have to be made in the proper way and must be made in writing to the employer. It will require the employer, along with any associated employers, to employ at least 21 people on the day that the request is received or to have employed an average of at least 21 employees in the previous 13 weeks. In order to be successful the union will have to show that the majority of the employees in the bargaining unit would support recognition and there cannot be another union already recognised for collective bargaining purposes covering some, or all, of the proposed bargaining unit. The union members will also have to make up at least 10% of the proposed bargaining unit.

Employees may belong to different unions so you need to decide which unions, if any, you are willing to recognise. If you find that you can work effectively with one union but another is obstructive then it may be to your advantage to recognise for collective bargaining purposes the union that you can work with positively.

Trade union recognition is a detailed and complex process and this is only a very general overview. If you are approached about union recognition then this is an area on which advice should be sought.

Trade Unions can be a difficult subject for businesses to deal with. Call our Employment Law Service on 0844 892 2772 and one of our dedicated team will be happy to answer your questions.