Union recognition still rising

Feb 18 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Union recognition is rising across the UK, says the TUC in its annual survey of recognition. But deals with most co-operative employers have now been done, and deals with more resistant and obstructive employers are getting harder to achieve.

According to the Trade Union Trends report ‘Focus on recognition’, there were more than 300 recognition deals last year, almost twice the number covered in the 2000 report (159), which included deals reached before recognition laws came into force.

It shows, as predicted, a slight dip from the previous year when unions were able to achieve ‘easy-wins’ in workplaces with union members in the wake of the changed atmosphere that followed the passing of union recognition laws. The vast bulk of new recognitions (more than ten to one) are achieved through voluntary agreement with employers.

Well-known companies and organisations with new recognition deals in this year’s report - which covers the twelve months up to October 2002 - include American Airlines, Boots, Meridian TV, Church of Scotland, Kwik-Fit, Greenpeace and Air New Zealand.

‘Focus on recognition’ confirms that the legal right for unions to win recognition is still producing a big increase in recognition deals. There were 50 per cent more recognition deals in the two years following the introduction of statutory recognition (770), than the total number of deals made in the five years before it came into force (513).

But anti-union employers are getting better at exploiting the loopholes in the recognition law to deny staff recognition of their union. The TUC wants the government to address this problem in its review of the Employment Relation Act, due to be completed this summer.

Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary Elect, said: “Once again this report shows the dire warnings that recognition rights would lead to difficulties were wrong. The vast majority of new deals are coming about through voluntary agreement, and the deals are increasingly covering more than the basics of pay and conditions, covering issues such as pensions and training.

”The survey also nails the lie that unions only have a role in big businesses. We are much encouraged that so many small to medium businesses are signing voluntary agreements. “

But she added that there is still a small minority of employers who are desperate to avoid working with trade unions.

Other key findings from the ‘Focus on recognition’ show:

The overwhelming majority of the voluntary agreements were for recognition covering at least pay, hours and holidays. Ninety one per cent also covered representation at grievance and disciplinary hearings, and a significantly increased number covered training (62%, 44% in 2001), information and consultation (59%, 41% in 2001), equal rights (53%), and pensions (36%, 23% in 2001).

Current recognition campaigns are likely to be taking place in smaller businesses (260 employees on average) than last year, as many large workplaces previously resisting recognition have accepted deals. Forty two per cent of the current campaigns are at a stage where they could seek statutory recognition as 50 per cent or more of the workforce have joined the union (31% in 2001).

In the last 12 months proportionally more unions (56%) are reporting that they have concluded recognition deals, than the year before (51%).

70,000 more workers are covered by a recognised trade union, almost three times the total covered in the 2000 report - bringing the total number of workers covered by deals made since the Employment Relations Act 1999 came into force to around 200,000.

In the main the statutory right to recognition introduced by the Employment Relations Act 1999 is helping unions organise recruitment and recognition campaigns but new deals are now becoming harder to achieve. The TUC, in its submission to the government review of the Act, is calling for a number of reforms that would simplify the procedure used to achieve recognition agreements.

The TUC opposes the arbitrary exclusion of small businesses (under 21 workers) from statutory recognition, particularly given the clear evidence from this survey that more and more workers in small businesses want a collective voice at work. Also at present, a union needs a 40 per cent ‘yes’ vote from the entire bargaining unit. The TUC believes that a simple majority of those voting should be sufficient. Currently, a failure to vote counts as a ‘no’ vote.