Until last month, an employer could refuse to recognise a trade union for bargaining purposes, regardless of the level of staff union membership.
But now the Government's controversial new trade union recognition procedure is in force. Unions have a right to recognition by employers of at least 21 workers if the majority of the workforce want it.
If the employer and trade union cannot reach a voluntary agreement, the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) decides on the appropriate 'bargaining unit'. Recognition is automatic if the union can show that it represents 50% of workers in the unit. Otherwise, the CAC will organise a ballot.
The union wins if a majority comprising at least 40% of the bargaining unit votes in favour. If recognition is granted and the employer refuses to play ball, the CAC can impose a procedure for bargaining that is enforceable in the courts.
Michael Burd and James Davies at Lewis Silkin, solicitors. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.