Recognising and derecognising a trade union
Statutory recognition of a trade union - deciding on the bargaining unit
If the Industrial Court accepts a trade union's application for statutory recognition but you and the union - 'the parties' - fail to agree on the bargaining unit, the Industrial Court panel must try to help the parties reach agreement on what the appropriate bargaining unit is.
It is important that the parties are clear as to which workers are included in the bargaining unit. This is because if - at a later stage in the process - a ballot is held, both the parties and the Industrial Court will need to know exactly which workers are entitled to receive a ballot paper.
To reach a decision on the bargaining unit, the Industrial Court may:
- itself mediate between the parties
- suggest the parties seek help from the LRA
- allow the parties - if they prefer - to conduct these negotiations between themselves directly
The Industrial Court has a period of 20 working days (the appropriate period) in which to try to help the parties reach an agreement. The period starts with the day following that on which the Industrial Court gives notice that it has accepted the trade union's application - see statutory recognition of a trade union - applying to the Industrial Court.
The Industrial Court can extend the appropriate period or bring it to an end if it believes that the parties are unlikely to reach an agreement. In addition, both parties can apply to the Industrial Court to bring the appropriate period to an early end.
Failure to agree on the appropriate bargaining unit
If the parties cannot agree on the bargaining unit or the union asks the Industrial Court to decide on the bargaining unit as set out in statutory recognition of a trade union - applying to the Industrial Court, the Industrial Court must decide within a period of ten working days whether or not the union's proposed bargaining unit is appropriate.
If the Industrial Court decides that the union's proposed bargaining unit is not appropriate, it must decide on a bargaining unit which is appropriate.
To make its decision, the Industrial Court has to consider:
- the location of workers
- the views of both parties
- existing national and local bargaining arrangements
- the preference to avoid small, fragmented bargaining units
- the characteristics of workers in the proposed bargaining unit and any other workers the Industrial Court considers relevant
- the need for the unit to be compatible with effective management - this factor takes priority over all the others
The Industrial Court may ask you and the union for your views on these issues - eg any views you may have on an alternative bargaining unit to the one proposed by the union.
If there is conflicting evidence on whether the union's proposed bargaining unit is appropriate, the Industrial Court panel is likely to call a hearing to determine the question.
Where the agreed or decided bargaining unit differs from the one initially proposed
Whether a bargaining unit is agreed between the parties or is decided by the Industrial Court, if that bargaining unit is different from the one proposed in the union's initial application for statutory recognition, the Industrial Court has to determine whether or not the new bargaining unit is 'valid'.
The bargaining unit will only be valid if:
- there is at least 10 per cent union membership in the new bargaining unit
- a majority of workers in the new bargaining unit is likely to favour recognition
- there is not a competing application including any workers covered by the new bargaining unit
- there is not an existing agreement under which a union can conduct collective bargaining on behalf of any workers in the new bargaining unit
- there has not been a previous application from the same union covering the same - or substantially the same - bargaining unit within the last three years
Following any necessary investigations, the Industrial Court panel may call a hearing to determine the validity of the revised bargaining unit. It normally has ten working days to reach its decision.
If - as a result of changes to the bargaining unit - the application does not meet the applied validity tests, the Industrial Court cannot proceed with the union's application.
However, the union can re-apply for statutory recognition of this revised bargaining unit within three years.
Industrial Court hearings
The Industrial Court will normally arrange hearings as quickly as possible in order to meet its statutory deadlines. This may mean imposing a hearing date even if it's not the most convenient date for either or both parties.
The Industrial Court expects that hearings will normally be completed in a day. The Industrial Court is based in Belfast, but it may hold hearings at other, more convenient locations. Hearings are normally informal and held in public.
Before a hearing, the chairman of the Industrial Court panel may hold a preliminary meeting in order to set out procedures and identify the issues disputed.
The Industrial Court will ask the parties to submit and exchange written evidence before the hearing.
The Industrial Court will only allow new evidence at hearings for good reasons and at the discretion of the panel. Where it is admitted, parties can request that the panel allows some additional time - such as a short adjournment - to consider the new evidence.
The Industrial Court will ask the parties to inform the panel in advance of the names of the speakers and any witnesses proposed for the hearing. The parties may appoint legal representatives but there is no obligation to do so.
Industrial Court028 9025 7599