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Trade union recognition

A trade union may be recognised by an employer for collective bargaining purposes either through a voluntary agreement, or recognition may be imposed by the Central Arbitration Committee if a trade union application meets certain criteria. A number of collective rights result from recognition, including the right for the trade union to receive information and be consulted in specified situations.

Key points

  • Employees have the right to join, or not to join, a trade union if they wish.
  • There is legal protection for trade union members, for example, against certain less favourable treatment, whether or not the trade union is recognised by the employer for collective bargaining.
  • An employer is not bound to negotiate with a trade union unless the union is recognised by the employer for the purposes of collective bargaining.
  • In the absence of a voluntary agreement to recognise a union, an employer may be required to recognise a union following a successful request complying with the statutory recognition procedure.
  • As a consequence of recognition, a trade union accrues a number of collective and individual rights including time off and consultation rights.
  • Obtaining a certificate of independence is important for trade unions in terms of both legal and practical industrial relations.

Recent developments

New law to lower information and consultation threshold

An independent review into modern ways of working, and the ability for workers to have a voice within organisations, was carried out by Matthew Taylor and resulted in the Good Work Review which was published in July 2017.

Following consultations on this matter, the government’s ‘Good Work Plan’ released in December 2018 has confirmed that legislation will be introduced to lower the threshold for employees to request the set up of information and consultation arrangements. From 6 April 2020, the threshold will be lowered to 2 per cent of employees, from the current threshold of 10 per cent.

Facility time reporting

As per the Trade Union (Facility Time Publication Requirements) Regulations introduced in April 2017, public sector organisations with at least one trade union representative and more than 50 employees for seven months during the reporting period have an annual duty to publish their facility time information. The deadline for the first report was 31 July 2018, and organisations had to base these initial reports on information dating from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018. There is an obligation to publish these reports each year on the organisation’s own website, whilst these should also be included in any annual reports.

These facility time reports must include:

  • The total number of employees who were relevant union officials during the period.
  • The percentage of each of these employees' working time spent on facility time.
  • The percentage of the employer's total pay bill spent on facility time.
  • Details of paid time off given for trade union activities for which there is no statutory right to paid time

A government website was launched on 1 July 2018 and organisations are also required to publish their facility time reports here.