We’re often asked by clients whether they can derecognise a trade union, when can it be done and what are the implications of derecognition. Here’s the lowdown:
Firstly, what’s important to remember is that a good and healthy trade union relationship can be a real asset to a business. We are great believers in managing industrial relations constructively, with the main objective to improve industrial relations throughout an organisation.
The Question of Derecognition
So, the question of derecognition often arises when a relationship becomes broken, or the terms and conditions currently in place become unworkable. Both situations require careful strategic thought before reaching for the nuclear button and derecognising a trade union.
We find that the question of derecognition arises also in three broad categories:
When the Numbers Don’t Stack Up
This is when the prior position of the trade union members within the bargaining unit holding a majority, is no longer the case and membership falls through the floor. It’s not appropriate for any employer to therefore allow the fate of it’s terms and conditions of the majority to be decided and influenced by the minority.
Remember, union agreements entered into voluntarily are not contractual. They are binding in spirit only, and they are terminable according to the terms of the agreement.
Terms and Conditions are not Fit for Purpose
This can arise for many reasons, but in our experience, this is felt when the terms were drafted in the 70’s/80’s and feel a little bit like a ‘relic of the past’. These terms often reflect a time where the business was very willing to offer every area of negotiation to the trade union, but times have changed and its common for organisations to now find these terms and conditions limiting and placing too much constraint on their aims and business objectives.
In this situation, an employer can look to re-strike the balance in terms of collaboration and partnership. Employers can base this on a business case where the business is losing its competitive edge, and it needs to revisit its collective terms to ensure that they are fit for purpose. This process requires reviewing, refining and redefining those terms to make sure that they are fit for purpose on both sides.
The Relationship is Dysfunctional
This situation arises when the characters involved are often viewed by the employer as pursuing an agenda personal to them, rather than an agenda that fits with the collaborative aims of the business. It’s this type of breach in trust and confidence that can encourage an employer to step back and think whether the trade union relationship is one that is irreparably damaged. This is a situation which will naturally create conflict and possibly lead to industrial action.
The Practical Process of Derecognition
The name of the game is always to improve, refine and define the relationship an employer has with its trade union, with a view to achieving better industrial relations across an organisation. Derecognition is a question and process that requires detailed planning, thought and an extremely detailed strategy.
Key to achieving this, an employer must gain; full board support, full stakeholder management of expectations and awareness of the risks involved, full and detailed consideration of business vulnerabilities, seasonal risks and any contingency arrangements that may be put in place.
Employers should always be conscious that their trade union have an ultimate response of strike action in relation to this type of challenge. If the trade union does take strike action then unless a business has sufficient contingency arrangements available, they can’t ‘talk tough’ and ‘act tough’ without following through in robust terms without seriously risking their credibility.
This option should always be taken first and foremost with the objective of improving and restoring the trade union relationship, but safe in the knowledge that if it doesn’t work, the organisation can still terminate the arrangement and have in place a full industrial relations strategy to cope with the shift in the way in which businesses may wish to collectively bargain with trade unions in the future.
Industrial relations can enable progress in an organisation just as well as it can impede it, or block and cause operational or financial harm. Whether in the heat of an immediate threat of industrial action, or just a failure to agree, we believe organisations with a well-informed strategy can work well towards meeting those challenges in a forward looking and collaborative manner.