Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Associations
Employees in the UK can be represented in a number of ways including through trade unions, works councils and employee representatives. In the UK, it is possible for an employer to establish employee representative bodies that are neither trade unions nor works councils, such as a staff or employee association. These employee representative bodies will often have lesser rights and powers than trade unions or works councils, and may be established for a limited range of purposes, such as consultation for large-scale redundancies.
Rights and Importance of Trade Unions
Employees have the right to join an independent trade union but the number of workers who belong to a trade union has diminished in recent years. Just under a quarter of UK workers are members of a trade union and around three in ten workers have their contracts regulated through collective bargaining between unions and employers.
Union rights may be collective or individual. The union, its representatives and its members benefit from collective rights, which protect them in the exercise of collective functions. As regards individual rights, it is unlawful to refuse to employ a person, because they are a member of a trade union. In addition, the dismissal of an employee or detrimental treatment on union grounds will be an automatically unfair dismissal.
Employees’ Representation in Management
There are no separate employee representation requirements for management.
Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies
Where the worker is a trade union member, he will have the right to be accompanied by a union representative or official in the workplace, in certain situations, such as in disciplinary and grievance hearings.
Recognised trade unions also have the right to appoint health and safety representatives at a particular establishment. They have wide-ranging functions relating to health and safety issues, including being consulted on health and safety matters.
A European Works Council (“EWC”) is a consultative body set up by employers for the purposes of fulfilling its obligations to inform and consult employees at European level. The EWC has the right to receive information about the business and to be consulted about some of the business’ activities.
A National Works Council (“NWC”) is a permanent consultative body made up of management and employee representatives whereby a UK-based employer can inform and consult its workforce about economic and employment-related matters.
UK employers with 50 or more employees must put in place an Information and Consultation Agreement (“ICA”) if certain criteria are met. Under these rules, the employees must have made a valid request to negotiate or the employer must have given a valid notification of intention to negotiate.