Recognising and derecognising a trade union

Statutory recognition of a trade union - applying to the Industrial Court


A union can apply to the Industrial Court if it sends you a request for statutory recognition but you either reject the request, or following negotiations between you and the union - 'the parties' - you fail to agree on the bargaining unit.

Industrial Court panels

A panel of three Industrial Court members will be convened to deal with each application. The panel will consist of:

  • the Industrial Court Chairman or Deputy Chairman
  • one member with experience as a representative of employers
  • one member with experience as a representative of workers

The individuals making up the panel could change if one becomes unavailable.

An Industrial Court official will be appointed to act as case manager for the application. They act as the main point of contact between you, the panel and the union.

Admissibility tests for union applications to the Industrial Court

In order for the Industrial Court to accept an application for recognition from a trade union, it must be:

  • on the proper Industrial Court application form
  • copied and sent to you, together with any supporting documents

Download the application form for trade union recognition (PDF, 143K).

The following conditions must also apply:

  • The union must have a certificate of independence from the Certification Office.
  • As the employer, you - together with any associated employer(s) - must employ at least 21 workers. Part-time workers count as whole numbers.
  • There must not be a competing application relating to the same or overlapping bargaining units.
  • There must not be an existing recognition agreement under which a union is entitled to conduct collective bargaining on behalf of any workers in the proposed bargaining unit.
  • At least 10 per cent of the workers in the proposed bargaining unit must belong to the union making the application.
  • The majority of workers must be likely to favour recognition. Evidence of this could be a petition from workers.
  • If the application is made by more than one union, the unions concerned must show that they will co-operate with each other to achieve stable collective bargaining arrangements.
  • There must not have been a previous application from the same union covering the same - or substantially the same - bargaining unit accepted by the Industrial Court within the last three years.

For full details of these tests, download Industrial Court guidance on statutory trade union recognition (PDF, 412K).

On receiving an application, the Industrial Court will send you:

  • notification that it has received the application
  • a questionnaire for you to fill in to give it information relating to the admissibility criteria

The Industrial Court has ten working days to decide whether or not to accept the application.

Industrial Court acceptance of the union's application

If the Industrial Court accepts a trade union's application for statutory recognition, the parties have 20 days - which may be extended or reduced if the Industrial Court decides there is no reasonable chance of agreement between the parties - to agree on the appropriate bargaining unit.

In these circumstances, you must provide the following information to both the Industrial Court and the union within five working days, starting with the day after that on which you received notice of the acceptance:

  • A list of the categories of worker in the proposed bargaining unit.
  • The number of workers you reasonably believe are in each of the categories at each of the workplaces.
  • A list of the workplaces at which they work. A workplace is the set of premises a person works at/from, or - where there are no such premises - the premises with which the worker's employment has the closest connection.

The information you give to the union and the Industrial Court must be the same and as accurate as is reasonably practicable in light of the information you have at the time.

If you fail to supply the required information - or fail to provide it in accordance with the statutory criteria - the union can request that the Industrial Court itself decides the bargaining unit.

If the Industrial Court agrees that you have failed to comply with this duty, it will decide the bargaining unit - usually within ten working days starting with the day after that on which the union made the request.

Union communications with workers following the Industrial Court's acceptance of the application

Where the Industrial Court accepts an application, the union may want to communicate with workers who are in the proposed or agreed bargaining unit.

To do so, the union must apply in writing to the Industrial Court asking it to appoint a suitable independent person (SIP) to handle these communications.

The Industrial Court will appoint the SIP as soon as possible after the union's request and will then notify the name, and appointment date, of the appointed person to the parties.

Once the Industrial Court appoints a SIP, you must - as soon as reasonably practicable - provide certain information to the Industrial Court that will enable the SIP to fulfil their role.

This information is as follows:

  • The names and home addresses of the 'relevant workers'. You must do this within ten working days, starting with the day after that on which you are informed of the name and date of appointment of the SIP. Relevant workers are either those falling within the proposed bargaining unit or - if a bargaining unit has already been agreed by the parties or decided by the Industrial Court - those within that bargaining unit.
  • If you have given the Industrial Court the names of workers in the proposed bargaining unit and then either you and the union agree on a different bargaining unit or the Industrial Court decides the bargaining unit, you must give the Industrial Court the names and home addresses of those who are now the 'relevant workers', ie those workers who fall within the different bargaining unit. You must do this within ten working days, starting with the day after that on which you and the union agree on the bargaining unit or the Industrial Court informs you of its decision on the bargaining unit.
  • The name and home address of any worker who subsequently joins the bargaining unit after you supply the initial list.
  • The details of any worker who ceases to be a 'relevant worker' because they have left the bargaining unit - except where a new complete list is supplied because the definition of the bargaining unit changes.

If you fail to comply with these duties, the Industrial Court may order you to remedy the failure within a set timescale.

If you fail to comply with the order, the Industrial Court may issue a notice to you and the union confirming that you have failed to comply with the order and may also declare that the union is recognised.