Trade union recognition

The legislation bringing into
force mandatory trade union recognition in certain circumstances is beginning
to have an effect.  Increasing numbers
of employers are receiving requests from a trade union asking them to accept
voluntary recognition. In those circumstances, what should your company do?

Initial response

The short answer is to seek
more information from the union and delay the start of any formal procedures
under the Employment Relations Act 1999. Before agreeing to voluntary
recognition, it is important to get clear information from the union on the
groups of workers for whom they wish to be recognised, the union’s proposals
for voluntary recognition and the precise mechanics of collective bargaining,
as they see it. This would include the timing of meetings, the issues on which
they wish to be consulted and the areas where they wish to have power to

It is important to remember
that a request for voluntary recognition does not trigger the compulsory
recognition procedures introduced by the Act. This means that if there is
voluntary recognition, outside of the legislative procedures, then the company
can in future walk away from the recognition agreement.

Formal request

Once the union makes a formal
request under the legislation, however, then the automatic recognition
procedures will begin.  Once this
happens, any voluntary recognition agreement will have to stay in force for
three years. 

If agreement cannot be reached
after a formal request is issued the union can involve the Central Arbitration
Committee, which will order automatic recognition where 50 per cent of
employees in the relevant bargaining unit are union members. The union may be
reluctant to progress its application to the committee if it is not confident
of the level of support in the workforce, since if it fails, it will be barred
from making another application for three years. 

If union recognition is not
attractive to you, it is best to keep up communication with staff so that they
are well aware of the limitations of compulsory recognition. The CAC can only
order recognition in relation to pay, holiday and hours of work.

Once the CAC procedures begin,
unions are in a strong position.  Cases
heard by the CAC show that the committee will require employers to make clear arguments
backed up by firm evidence.  If the
union has less than the 50 per cent threshold, the CAC will order a secret

must allow the union access to staff during its pre-ballot campaign. Failure to
do this can result in the CAC abandoning the ballot and ordering compulsory

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