CAC reports rise in trade union recognition applications

The Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) the body which adjudicates on trade union recognition claims and claims on Information & Consultation Rights has recently published its annual report for 2011/12.

The report shows that, during the year ending 31st March this year, there were 43 applications made to the CAC for trade union recognition, which is a significant increase from the 28 applications made in the previous year.

The CAC report notes that this is a return to the level of applications for trade union recognition from two years ago, when there were 42 applications.

In its 2010/11 report, the CAC attributed the unusually low numbers that year in part to trade unions taking great care to ensure that their applications are not rejected at the preliminary stage, and in part to a greater willingness on the part of the parties to reach an agreement. That may have been the case – but unions also regard the current economic crisis is making it harder to organise faced with hostility by companies and workers ‘keeping their heads down’.

There were no new applications for trade union derecognition. The one outstanding derecognition case that concluded during the year did not successfully pass the acceptance stage as there was “insufficient evidence of support for the cessation of the bargaining arrangements”.  – Although not named this was the attempt to de-recognise Unite at Honda in Swindon. Following this attempt and an attempt to discipline the Unite convenor at the site, which was also fought off – union membership at the site has grown significantly.

The report makes the point that the CAC is “an evidence-based body and relies on sustainable evidence from the parties”, whether the issue at stake is recognition or derecognition.

In 2011/12, the proportion of applications for trade union recognition involving employers with fewer than 200 workers was 45%, almost identical to the 46% in 2010/11. The average size of a bargaining unit in 2011/12 was 261 workers, compared with 87 in 2010/11. However, the CAC notes that the increase in the average was heavily influenced by a few applications in which the bargaining unit was very large, including one in which the bargaining unit had over 5,000 workers.

About two-thirds of the applications involved a bargaining unit of fewer than 100 workers. The manufacturing, transport and communication sectors represented 58% of the applications. Applications were received from 10 trade unions.

The CAC also says that complaints to it about breaches of the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004 (SI 2004/3426) continue to make a “modest” contribution to its workload.

The CAC received just four fresh complaints under these Regulations. Three of the four cases were closed during the year, two by way of CAC decisions and one withdrawn.

One of the problems with the I&C regulations is that the UK’s transposition makes the regulations complex. Equally, there are still misunderstandings of the status of the I&C, with many workers and some unions suspicious of what they are getting themselves into. Some workers and unions see them as quasi works forums or ‘sweetheart’ councils and many  employers also immediately baulk at the idea of informing and consulting properly with staff and unions.

As I said this last week at a Conference run by The Manufacturer magazine the I&C Regulations are under used and where companies and unions have set them up they are proving to be beneficial.

There are considerable benefits to unions and to the workforce. A legally secured I&C structure gives workers significant new rights to understand what is going on at their company, rights to information, and to be consulted about the business.

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