Trade Unions & Industrial Action

Whilst it is fair to say that trade union activity tends to be confined to larger organisations, trade unionism still thrives. To some extent the consolidation of some of the UK’s biggest means they remain a powerful body in representing their members’ interests.

At a superficial level, the most an organisation may experience union involvement is with an employee who wants to be accompanied to a disciplinary hearing by a trade union representative. At the other end of the scale, however, some businesses will have forged working relationships with a number of trade unions (usually through collective or recognition agreements), or with Works Councils, or via ad-hoc arrangements whereby unions are not formally recognised but instead co-exist and work constructively with the business.

Industrial action is pretty rare these days, and something only the biggest organisations are likely to experience. That said, even a threat of a strike can be damaging as what tends to follow is a very public spat for both the political and moral high ground. Assuming the threat of a strike is real however, employers will need to act decisively. Initially the focus will be on negotiation, but at the same time the business will need to assess the benefits and risks associated with applying for a High Court injunction in order to prevent the strike taking place. If a strike is imminent, then steps need to be taken to mitigate any adverse effect which will include decisions about carrying out dismissals, withholding pay and trying to galvanise non-striking (but reticent) staff to fill in for any gaps.

Union activity can also surface when organisations are trying to negotiate voluntary recognition agreements, or attempting to defend formal union recognition bids in the event that an application to the Central Arbitration Committee is made. Even those employers who are thinking about introducing Works Council agreements may still have to think carefully about the role unions could play even if they are not formally recognised within the business.

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