There are several ways in which a union may come to be recognised for the purposes of collective bargaining. A union is recognised by an employer or two or more associated employers if it is entitled to negotiate pay and other terms and conditions of employment on behalf of a group of workers. Typically a union seeking recognition will begin to do so through initial approaches to achieve voluntary recognition based on the employer’s consent. There is, however, no obligation on the employer to agree to this.

Voluntary recognition may take many different forms. In smaller organisations, recognition can be relatively informal with issues emerging on an ad hoc basis. In larger organisations, several unions may be recognised, each having responsibility for representing a particular group of workers, commonly referred to as a bargaining unit.

Where an employer agrees to recognise a union it is best practice that any agreement is set down in a written document.

When an employer has made it clear that it will not recognise it, the union may seek to compel recognition by demonstrating that it has majority support within the workplace. This is called statutory recognition and procedures were first introduced in their current form in the year 2000. The statutory procedures only apply to employers with 21 or more workers and to independent trade unions.

In relation to statutory recognition, the procedure is divided into several stages:

1. A formal request for recognition in writing

2. A period of negotiation between 10 and 30 days

3. If no agreement on bargaining units is reached, then reference can be made to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC)

4. CAC will assess the requirements for admissibility of the application

5. Bargaining units will be determined, where appropriate

6. Support for recognition will be assessed

De-recognition is the process by which an employer ceases to recognise a union as being entitled to bargain on behalf of workers within the bargaining unit. How this is done depends on how recognition was obtained. If a union has been voluntarily recognised it can be de-recognised at any time. This process, however, must be formal and unambiguous.

Where a union has been recognised as a result of the statutory procedure, it could only de-recognised by way of a statutory de-recognition procedure.

During recognition and de-recognition ballots, employers must give the union such access to the workers within the bargaining unit as is reasonable to enable the union to inform the workers of the object of the ballot.

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