Managing trade unions and collective bargaining with a Labour government in power

With a potential Labour government imminent, employers need to think now about its impact on their current trade union and collective bargaining arrangements.

The Labour manifesto states explicitly that stronger trade unions and collective bargaining will be the key mechanisms that enable them to tackle what they perceive as problems in the employment arena. So we can expect an emboldened and empowered trade union movement to begin to flex its muscles more assertively than at any time since the 1970s and 80s.

Our newsletter, sent last week, provided guidance on Labour’s proposed employment reforms and what employers will need to consider.  This note deals specifically with how we can help with trade union and collective bargaining arrangements in the UK although we can also advise in the rest of Europe and Africa.

Trade union recognition

We expect to see an increase in Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) claims and trade union recognition claims and disputes.

In response to a trade union application, the CAC may rule that a union must be recognised for collective bargaining on pay, hours of work and holidays. This CAC procedure is complex, costly, takes a long time and can affect internal and external stakeholder relationships.

We have significant experience in advising on how to handle such claims and we can offer both strategic employee relations and legal advice to deal with any union recognition claims.

We can also assist you in planning and implementing strategies for de-recognition of trade unions, reductions in the number of unions recognised and how to handle full-time officials who are damaging working relationships.

Collective bargaining

We can offer support to business throughout the full spectrum of scenarios.  From large, multi-site and multi-union agreements, to single-site agreements, to organisations with a handful of unionised employees and no history – or experience – of unions.

We have a unique perspective on industrial relations and we know how all-consuming it can be – regardless of business size, industry, the number of unions or agreements involved. We have subject matter expertise, coupled with wider industry knowledge, which allow us to pragmatically work through agreements to achieve solutions that are financially, operationally and commercially sound.

Industrial action

We help businesses to manage industrial action – full and partial strikes and industrial action short of a strike – and to undertake pre-action risk mitigation and business continuity planning.

We have dealt with many complex industrial relations disputes including business change, pay and conditions, hours of work, restructuring, redundancies, terms and conditions changes, shift patterns etc. Equally, we can work with organisations to bring about a swift and amicable resolution preventing the escalation of potentially damaging industrial action.

Industrial relations strategy

Few companies devote sufficient time to formulating a strategy for industrial relations.

For example, what is the long-term objective for relationships with trade unions?  Do you want to maintain their exclusion, limit or reduce their influence, eliminate them, remove current unions and replace with benign unions, reduce the number recognised, increase their involvement – full ‘partnership’ model etc?

We do a lot of work with organisations to design a strategy that is aligned to long-term business requirements. We can offer market and union insights. Often to make even basic improvements from current positions will require 2 – 3 years of sustained effort and will require effort in improving communications and middle managers’ capability.

Get in shape now

In our view, the trade union and collective bargaining arena will be front and centre of the issues employers will face over the next few years. We recommend you invest time and effort now in thinking through the potential effects on your organisation and how to respond.

If you need support, we are experts in the field and can deal directly with trade union officials or work behind the scenes with senior managers to provide advice and practical support.