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Trade union recognition: Know the basics

If a trade union wants to negotiate with an employer on pay and working conditions on behalf of a group of workers (called the 'bargaining unit'), it needs to be recognised by that employer.

Usually - and most simply - an employer recognises the union voluntarily, without recourse to any legal procedures.

But sometimes employers and trade unions aren't able to reach a voluntary recognition agreement. In these cases the union can make an application for statutory recognition, as long as it has fulfilled some basic requirements: the union must have already made a formal application for recognition with the employer; the organisation must employ at least 21 workers; the union must have at least 10 per cent membership and be likely to attract majority support in a ballot; and if the employer has suggested that Acas be involved, the union must have consented within ten working days.

Do employers have to recognise a trade union if the bargaining unit is not based in the UK? The High Court has recently ruled that if the connection is "sufficiently strong" with Great Britain, then British trade union law applies.

About a fifth of the disputes that Acas deals with every year involve trade union recognition. But there doesn't have to be a dispute for Acas to help. It can provide confidential information and advice about trade union recognition and many other employment relations issues, helping employers, employees and trade unions work together for the best outcomes.

Even after a union has been successfully recognised, Acas can help both parties develop successful procedural arrangements and cement a good working relationship, fostering a co-operative style from the outset.

Acas offers training on trade union recognition for people wanting to understand the legal aspects of working with trade unions and to improve their collective bargaining skills.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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