Trade Unions FAQs
What does trade union recognition mean?
A trade union is 'recognised' by an employer when it negotiates agreements with employers on pay and other terms and conditions of employment on behalf of a group of employees, defined as the 'bargaining unit'. This process is known as 'collective bargaining' and is usually embodied in a recognition agreement.
A trade union may seek recognition in an organisation by voluntary or statutory means.
What is a trade union?
An organisation of employees created to protect and advance the interests of its members by negotiating agreements with employers on pay and conditions of work. Unions may also provide legal advice, financial assistance, sickness benefits and education facilities. The Employment Relations (Jersey) Law 2007 provides for legal status of unions in Jersey. Details are set out in the relevant Code of Practice.
There is of course no such thing as a typical 'union' or 'non union' company. However, employers who do not recognise trade unions will usually:
- deal directly with employees who have problems. So employess who have grievances will raise them directly with the managers concerned
- determine increases in pay or other terms and conditions of employment for a group of employees without negotiating with a trade union representative
- set up an employee or works council to inform and consult with employees. Such a body will not normally negotiate terms and conditions of employment or be 'independent' of the employer.
Employers who recognise trade unions:
- will negotiate with representatives of a trade union who act on behalf of their members to get improvements on pay and other terms and conditions of employment. This process is known as 'collective bargaining'
- will give representatives of the trade union paid time off to carry out their union duties
- may sign up to 'partnership' agreements which encourage a co-operative approach to employment relations. For example, a partnership agreement may involve assurances of job security in exchange for flexible working practices. In others it may set out new systems for consultation and representation and a joint commitment to a co-operative approach.
What is an independent trade union?
A trade union that is not under the domination or control of an employer and is independent from the employer financially.
What is voluntary trade union recognition?
When a union uses voluntary means to get recognition. JACS can help if both parties agree. The Code of Practice provides a framework for recognition.
What is an affiliated union?
Any independent trade union with membership in England and Wales may apply for affiliation to the TUC, and in Scotland to the Scottish TUC. Affiliated unions are entitled to send delegates to the TUC annual conference. Few unions of any size are unaffiliated. However, an independent trade union does not have to be affiliated to make a voluntary or statutory trade union recognition claim.
What is statutory trade union recognition?
A trade union that is registered in accordance with the law (see also the Code of Practice) may make an application to the Employment Tribunal for recognition in organisations that employ at least 21 workers.
The Code requires that every means to seek voluntary recognition via JACS is exhausted before the Tribunal is asked to rule.
How are disputes settled between affiliated unions?
A TUC Code of Practice sets out principles governing relationships between unions. In the case of an inter-union dispute between affiliated unions about trade union recognition the TUC will examine the issue and aim to help the unions to reach a voluntary settlement. If this is not possible, the TUC will make an award.
What is the JACS role in trade union recognition?
- give impartial and confidential information and advice on trade union recognition
- help resolve disputes over trade union recognition by voluntary means
- assist with membership checks and ballots to help resolve trade union recognition issues
- assist employers and trade unions to draw up recognition and procedural agreements and work together to solve problems.
What is a bargaining unit?
A bargaining unit comprises the group(s) of employees who are represented by the trade union. If there is a written recognition and negotiating agreement the agreement will normally define the bargaining unit. Such a description should describe the occupation and location of the employees covered by the agreement. So, for example, a negotiating agreement may describe the bargaining unit as 'Assembly workers, up to (but not including) the level of supervisor at the La Collette site'.
If there is dispute about the composition of a bargaining unit, the Code of Practice describes the approach both parties should take.
What happens if there is a dispute about trade union recognition?
Either or both sides may approach JACS for help in resolving the dispute. JACS will conciliate if both parties to the dispute agree that we should become involved. It is up to the JACS conciliator to progress each case with the parties.
The Employment Relations (Jersey) Law 2007 sets out a legal procedure for dealing with recognition issues that cannot be resolved on a voluntary basis, but it is expected that this approach is one of last resort if all else fails.
Does there need to be a dispute about trade union recognition before JACS becomes involved?
No. JACS can give advice and information on trade union recognition separately or jointly to either party. In the last resort the Employment Tribunal can be asked to intervene.
How can JACS help with a ballot on trade union recognition?
(As part of an informal or voluntary recognition procedure or as part of a formal application for recognition)
Where an employer and trade union agree that employees should take part in a secret ballot to determine whether the trade union should be recognised, JACS can help the parties to determine:
- the question to be asked on the ballot paper
- the rules about how the ballot should be conducted
- the action to be taken following the issue of the results of the ballot.
JACS conciliators can administer the ballot. However, where large numbers of employees are to be balloted JACS will continue to provide conciliation but may suggest that a specialist independent balloting agency be requested to administer the ballot, with the costs borne by the parties.
How can JACS help determine union membership levels?
(As part of an informal or voluntary recognition or as part of a formal application by a union for recognition).
Trade unions are normally reluctant to reveal to the employer the names of employees who have joined a trade union. However, they will usually allow JACS to carry out an audit of union membership within the organisation. This will involve the employer giving JACS a list of employees in the proposed bargaining unit and the union providing evidence of membership. The JACS conciliator can then reveal to both sides how many trade union members there are within the proposed bargaining unit.
Before the membership audit the parties will normally agree the action that should be followed after the results of the membership audit are announced. If agreement cannot be reached, the Code of Practice on Trade Union Recognition sets out certain outcomes, depending upon the ballot result:
- the union will withdraw the request for recognition if membership levels are below a specified level
- evidence of a specified minority level of membership will trigger a secret ballot of employees on trade union recognition
- the union will be recognised without the need for a ballot if membership levels are shown to be over 50 per cent.