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Employment Law

Legal guidance - compliance - software

Veale Wasborough Vizards , 01 SEP 2015

Hot Topic: reforms to industrial action laws and trade union recognition

Hot Topic: reforms to industrial action laws and trade union recognition
Nick Murrell
Solicitor, Veale Wasbrough Vizards

We reported recently on the consultation being undertaken on the Trade Union Bill. Broadly, that consultation is concentrating on the hiring of agency staff on strike during industrial action, the ballot thresholds for the approval of strikes in public services and picketing and intimidation by trade unions.

This consultation seems to have focused minds on the relationship between employers and trade unions, and as such as have seen an increase in instructions relating to trade union recognition.

Simply stated, 'recognition' is the process by which an employer accepts a trade union as entitled to act on behalf of a particular group (or groups) of workers (known as a bargaining unit) for defined purposes.

Recognition can be accomplished in a number of ways.

Compulsory recognition follows a protracted statutory procedure set out in the Trade Unions and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, and which starts with a written request for recognition by a union.

Voluntary recognition where a union is recognised by agreement negotiated between the employer and union.

Semi-voluntary recognition following a formal union request but where agreement is reached before recognition is ordered.

Implied recognition where a union can show that an employer has been willing to negotiate historically with a view to reaching agreement on specific matters.

In addition, the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004 set out a regime under which employers may (and, in some cases, must) put in place formal Information and Consultation Agreements (ICE Agreements) governing how they will consult the entire workforce about economic and employment related matters.

The parties are free to agree their own arrangements for information and consultation, and this may involve a number of different methods of communication including team briefings, departmental meetings, newsletters, intranet and emails. The flexible nature of ICE Agreements means that there is scope to tailor the consultation agreements to fit the employer's exact requirements.

ICE Agreements do not prevent unions from seeking recognition and are sometimes used alongside recognition. 

Best practice

Whether recognition and/or a formal ICE Agreement is desirable will depend upon the differing circumstances of each employer, the arrangements already in place and whether there is any existing union relationship to be accommodated.

In our experience, however. employers often benefit from pre-emptive action. If there is a possibility that a union will seek compulsory recognition then agreeing voluntary recognition and/or an ICE Agreement can save significant time. In addition, both voluntary recognition agreements and ICE Agreements can be negotiated to limit the scope of the consultation and collective bargaining rights conferred.

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