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Unionised workplace

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As an employer, you may need to work with trade unions that represent groups of your employees. Trade unions will negotiate with you on working conditions, for example, pay and holiday. You need to recognise the trade union before they can negotiate with you.

If you recognise a union in your workplace there are certain rules you need to follow. You must: give the union information in advance to help with collective bargaining; inform and consult the union about major changes in the workplace; follow proper procedures if you’re taking union subscriptions straight from your employees’ pay; let union reps and members have to time off for union activities; not discriminate against a worker because they’re in the union.

You’ll need to work with unions to discuss changes to your employees’ terms and conditions.

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This is called ‘collective bargaining. Collective bargaining covers the terms and conditions of workers. This can include all employees in a workplace or just certain groups of workers. It’s up to you and the union to agree on which terms and conditions are covered but it’s usually things like pay, holiday, working hours etc.

Employers and unions need to work out how to run collective bargaining, e.g.: who will represent the workers; when and how often meetings will happen; what to do if more than one union is recognised; what will be discussed; what to do if the union and employer cannot agree.

Employers must give certain information to the union to help it with the bargaining process, e.g. the company’s pay and benefits structure or information about its profits, assets and liabilities. If collective bargaining leads to an agreement, for example about a pay increase or change in working conditions, it’s called a ‘collective agreement’.

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Employers must inform and consult with a recognised trade union about collective redundancies; transfers of business ownership; health and safety.

Some trade union members pay their union subscriptions directly out of their wages. The employer then gives these payments to the union. This is often called the ‘check-off’. It’s up to you if you want to run the check-off. A union cannot force you to run the check-off unless you’ve agreed to it in your workers’ employment contracts.

A worker must give you written permission to take their union subscriptions from their wages. This must be signed and dated. Their permission starts from this date and continues until they say otherwise. If you take the check-off without proper permission you could be taken to an employment tribunal. You can pre-print consent forms as long as the worker signs and dates the form themselves. Unions are also allowed to get written consent from the worker and then forward it to you.

You must stop taking check-off payments if your employee asks you to. They must give you written notice to stop the check-off and you must be given reasonable time to stop it. You can stop running the check-off at any time. If it’s in your workers’ employment contracts, you may have to give them notice.

The union does not have to help run the check-off. However, you can be involved in it if you want to. You could, for example, ask the union to help you get initial consent from its members. You could also charge the union for the work involved in administering the check-off. Even if you involve the union in the check-off, it’s still your responsibility to make sure you make check-off deductions properly.

If you recognise a union, it will normally name one or more of your workers as its local workplace representatives (shop stewards). Union shop stewards have certain rights. They’re allowed reasonable time off work: with pay for union duties and training at appropriate times; without pay to take part in union activities, e.g. the union’s annual conference (trade union members are entitled to this as well).

Nevertheless, you cannot discriminate against anyone because they’re in the union or because of their union activity. With rare exceptions, it’s also illegal to compile, use, sell or supply a ‘block list’ of union members that will be used to discriminate against them.

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