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A Cheat Sheet for Trade Union Recognition

April 28, 2023

Recent news reports have speculated that Amazon may be compelled to legally recognise a trade union in the UK for the first time. Following this, it has been confirmed by GMB Union that they have initiated the procedure for union recognition with Amazon Coventry following a two-week period of strike action. If Amazon do not agree voluntary recognition within 10 days, the union have indicated that they will commence the statutory process by going through the Central Arbitration Committee.

At this stage, it is unclear whether Amazon will accept voluntary recognition or whether matters will escalate. Nevertheless, employers should always look to make themselves aware of what their legal position is regarding union recognition; accordingly, a brief overview can prove beneficial. (You’re welcome, Amazon!)

Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992

The key statutory framework in this area is the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA 1992). This affords trade unions a statutory right to apply for recognition providing it meets the relevant criteria.

Generally, a union’s request for recognition is only valid if:

  • It is made in writing, clearly identifying the union as well as the bargaining unit. It must state that it is made under Schedule A1 to TULRCA 1992.
  • It is received by the employer.
  • The union has a certificate of independence.
  • The employer employs at least 21 workers on the day it receives the request, or an average of at least 21 workers in the 13 weeks ending with that day.

Once this request is received and providing it meets these requirements, the employer has 10 days to respond to the request, known as “the first period”. As matters stand, this is the point that Amazon currently find themselves and effectively they are left with three options (again, you’re welcome for the steer Amazon):

Option One: Accept

With this option, Amazon accept the terms of the request from GMB Union, they accept the proposed bargaining unit i.e., the employees to be represented by the union and they must enter negotiations with GMB to establish collective bargaining arrangements.

Option Two: Reject or ignore

Alternatively, Amazon may choose to reject the request for recognition. This can be done expressly by rejecting the request outright, or implicitly by choosing to ignore it.

As GMB have already indicated, in this case, the option to initiate the statutory process through the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) becomes available.

In these circumstances, the CAC will look to intervene and try and resolve the dispute between the employer and the union. The union can look to the CAC to decide whether the proposed bargaining unit is appropriate and if the majority of the workers in the unit support the union.

If the CAC is satisfied by the union’s position, it may order a recognition order, compelling the employer to recognise and enter negotiations with the union.

Option Three: Reject and negotiate

Finally, Amazon may not wish to accept the exact terms put forward by GMB in their request, however, Amazon can still avoid statutory proceedings through the CAC by showing a willingness to negotiate.

With this scenario, the parties will enter the “second period”, lasting at least 20 working days beginning the day after the end of the first period. The parties can look to agree between themselves on the terms of a bargaining unit and whether the employer recognises the union as having the authority to initiate collective bargaining. Both parties are entitled to seek ACAS assistance throughout these negotiations and there is a duty on both sides to respond positively to this. If the union rejects the proposal for ACAS involvement, they will not be permitted to look to the CAC to make an order in their favour.

In these circumstances, Amazon could see the following outcomes:

  • Both parties reach an agreement, and no further action is taken in relation to union recognition.
  • The parties fail to reach any agreement, or they agree a bargaining unit without an agreement relating to union recognition. In either of these cases, the union could make an application to the CAC as indicated above.

The recognition of Trade Unions can be a complex, fast-moving subject and the time following the initial request marks only the beginning; accordingly, it is vital that employers are aware of their obligations in this regard. If you have any questions on this on any other area of Employment law, please get in touch with Blackadders Employment Team, working across Scotland.

Nicola Burns

Nicola Burns

Director of Operations

Marketing Team

+44 1382 342217

The opinions expressed in this site are of the author(s) only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Blackadders LLP.

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