Recognising Trade Unions: What You Need to Know

It’s important to understand your rights and obligations, as an employer, when it comes to laws and legislation governing trade unions in the UK. It’s up to you to ensure that your recruitment and staff management protocols fall in line with regulations. Failing to do so can have major legal repercussions, and place your business at a disadvantage when it comes to collective bargaining.

In this article, we’ll focus on the process of recognising a union, as well important considerations you’ll need to make once a union has been formally recognised by your business. For more detailed explanations of these and other regulations, visit




Recognising a Trade Union 

Voluntary recognition

A trade union may request that you voluntarily recognise it. The union may ask to represent your entire staff, or a select group of employees. The latter group is often referred to as a “bargaining unit”.

The union must provide you with this request in writing and you have 10 working days to respond to it. The request must contain the following details:

  • The name of the union
  • Which employees the union wishes to represent, upon recognition
  • A statement that the union is making the request under Schedule A1 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992

Once you have negotiated with the union regarding voluntary recognition, you may choose whether or not to recognise the union. If you feel that you require assistance in negotiating the recognition parameters, you may suggest that the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) be brought in to assist.

Statutory recognition

Should you choose not to voluntarily recognise the union, it can apply for statutory recognition, from the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC). As long as the union’s application meets all the requirements, CAC will accept the union’s application for recognition. To apply for statutory recognition, the union must be a certified independent union and may not have applied for recognition by your company within the last three years.

You will need to actively challenge the application in order to prevent acceptance. You may challenge the union’s application based on the following criteria:

  • You have not received an application for recognition and any supporting documents required
  • The proposed union membership/ bargaining unit does not represent at least 10% of your staff
  • The union has no evidence that the majority of employees are in favour of union recognition

The CAC will correspond with you regarding your challenge to the application and must inform you of the outcome within 10 working days. If the union’s application is accepted by the CAC, you will need to work together with the union and the CAC to establish the bargaining unit. Collective bargaining can then begin, in order to agree on pay, hours and holiday entitlement.


trade union

Important Considerations

Once your company has formally recognised a union, you will need to follow certain guidelines and ensure that your interactions with prospective and current employees take place within them.

Paying union fees

Employees decide, individually, how they would like to pay their union subscription fees. They may choose to have the fee deducted from their salary and paid directly to the union (known as check-off) or a manual payment via direct debit, cash or cheque. As an employer, you are not obligated to use the check-off method, and you may not deduct money from an employee’s salary, without that employee’s written consent.

Employee’s rights

Your employees have a legal right to join, or refuse to join, a union. This is important to note, as any actions or initiatives you implement that discriminate against membership or non-membership of a union, are illegal.

  • Do not offer any benefits to employees for leaving or joining a trade union
  • Do not threaten or discipline an employee based on union membership
  • You may not dismiss or select an employee for redundancy based on union membership.

Employees also have a right to be accompanied by a union representative to any disciplinary charge, or meeting to resolve a workplace grievance.

By educating yourself with regards to the laws and legislation governing trade union membership and procedures, you can make sure that the relationship between a trade union and your business is mutually beneficial and union

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