Trade union recognition refers to the process by which an employer accepts a trade union (or unions) as entitled to act on behalf of its workers for some purpose. What that purpose is will be agreed by the parties, and the agreement may cover an entire workforce or a particular group (or groups) of workers.

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A recognition agreement may give the union the right to consult with the employer on issues affecting the workforce, thus acting as an intermediary between employer and workers. Alternatively, it may entitle the union to represent workers in certain circumstances. However, the gold standard to which trade unions aspire is full negotiation rights that allow the union to undertake collective bargaining on behalf of the workers involved.

This allows unions to negotiate and reach an agreement with the employer in place of the workers on any number of issues affecting their employment. The subject matter of the collective bargaining is again a matter for agreement, although the subject matter covered will impact on the statutory rights that follow recognition.

The vast majority of recognition agreements are ‘voluntary’, meaning that they were entered into freely by the parties. However, a statutory recognition scheme was introduced in 2000 by the Employment Relations Act 1999 via amendments to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. The scheme gives unions the opportunity of gaining recognition for workers — if the majority of the workers concerned want it — in the face of opposition from the employer.

Our employment solicitors can assist you with all stages of trade union recognition, and with negotiating with a union where one has been recognised.

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