Recognising and derecognising a trade union

The consequences of trade union recognition


There are a number of consequences once a trade union becomes recognised.

Many apply regardless of whether recognition was voluntary, semi-voluntary or statutory. However, some are only relevant where a union uses the statutory procedure.

Making arrangements for the conduct of collective bargaining

Once a union has achieved recognition, either via a voluntary or the statutory procedure, you and the union - 'the parties' - need to agree how you will conduct collective bargaining.

Such an agreement could cover the following issues:

  • bargaining procedure
  • how and when meetings will be arranged
  • who the employer and union representatives are
  • time off for union representatives to attend meetings
  • how agreements and disagreements will be communicated to the workforce
  • conduct during negotiations - how and when issues can be raised
  • the specific matters which will be subject to joint agreement, eg pay and working hours
  • dispute resolution - what should happen if deadlock is reached on a particular issue, eg conciliation and arbitration
  • union recruitment activities in the workplace
  • union representation of workers at disciplinary and grievance hearings
  • deduction of union contributions from employees' wages

Deciding what a collective agreement will cover

Collective agreements usually cover pay arrangements and other terms and conditions of employment. They might also cover such matters as:

  • matters of discipline
  • trade union membership or non-membership
  • facilities for officials of trade unions

The procedural agreement should set out the level at which negotiations will take place, eg site, company, regional or national level.

It should also specify the bargaining methods where two or more unions are recognised, eg whether unions should bargain separately or as a single bargaining unit.

The parties usually need training on aspects of employment relations and the bargaining process. Some trade unions and independent organisations provide accredited courses.

Usually, collective agreements are not in themselves legally enforceable. However, parts of collective agreements such as pay rates, or references to agreements, may be inserted and thus legally incorporated into the employment contracts of individual employees. Because individual employment contracts are legally enforceable, many collective agreements are indirectly underpinned by law.

Legal consequences of statutory trade union recognition

Once the Industrial Court declares that a union is recognised, the union is entitled to conduct collective bargaining with you on pay, hours and holidays - although the parties can agree to cover additional issues.

The parties must first agree on how they will conduct collective bargaining, calling on the services of the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) if necessary.

If no agreement is reached within 30 working days, either party has the right to apply to the Industrial Court for assistance.

The Industrial Court has 20 working days from the application date to help achieve an agreement. If no agreement is reached, the Industrial Court will impose a legally binding method of bargaining.

However, the imposed method of collective bargaining can be modified by the parties, providing they both agree.

If the imposed method is not followed, either party can apply to a court to order the other party to act in accordance with the prescribed method.

If this order is ignored by the relevant party, that party will be in contempt of court, and may face a fine or imprisonment.

Where the Industrial Court has imposed a method for carrying out collective bargaining, the union has the right to be consulted by you on your policies and plans for training workers in the bargaining unit at least once every six months.

If you fail to meet these consultation obligations, the union has three months to make a complaint to an industrial tribunal. If the tribunal finds the complaint well founded, it may award up to two weeks' pay to each affected worker.

Note that there is a statutory limit on a week's pay. See a table of current tribunal and arbitration compensation limits.

Disclosing information to trade unions

You have a duty to disclose - if requested - relevant information to a recognised trade union during the collective bargaining process.

The LRA has a code of practice on disclosure of information to trade unions for collective bargaining purposes. The code imposes no legal obligations on you to disclose any specific item of information and failure to observe the code does not by itself mean you would be liable to legal proceedings.

However, the law requires any relevant provisions to be taken into account in proceedings before the Industrial Court.

Read Labour Relations Agency guidance on disclosure of information to trade unions for collective bargaining purposes.

General legal consequences of trade union recognition

Once a union becomes recognised, you have a legal duty to:

  • allow lay union representatives to take reasonable time off with pay to perform their duties
  • allow members covered by the recognition arrangements the right to reasonable unpaid time off to carry out trade union activities
  • allow union learning representatives time off with pay to carry out their duties

For more on time-off rights for union representatives and members, see trade union membership rights.

You also have a legal duty to:

All these obligations apply regardless of whether the recognition was via the statutory or voluntary route.