A trade union is an organisation with the primary goal of getting the very best working condition deals for the workers of the particular industry it represents.
The organisation is made up of members (typically workers within the industry) who pay a fee each month.
Trade unions can negotiate with employers in that relevant sector/industry on matters affecting workers within it. These matters include pay and large-scale redundancies. Trade unions can be a sounding board and advice-giver to employees with concerns, and they can also attend meetings, such as disciplinary and dismissal meetings, in support of employees who are their trade union's members.
What does the existence of a trade union mean for my business?
Firstly, it's important that you treat all workers the same, whether they are part of a trade union or not. For example, employees can't be dismissed or made redundant on the basis of them being union members, they mustn't be forced into paying for their membership if they don't agree to do so, and they shouldn't be at any disadvantage on account of their trade membership status.
If you have a trade union representative amongst your workforce, you must allow them reasonable time off to attend to their union duties. You must also let the trade union know if you are planning any major changes to the business that'll effect the workforce, such as an expansion, sale or acquisition or a redundancy event. You're also obliged to give the trade union any relevant and requested information to help with collective bargaining (see below for more on this).
What's collective bargaining?
Essentially, collective bargaining means negotiating. If the trade union wants to negotiate with you on something on behalf of their members, they'll need to write to ask you to recognise them before they can do so. You then have 10 working days to respond. If you do agree to recognise them, you can begin collective bargaining (negotiating) in relation to what they want to change. You can take a look at more information on collective bargaining from Acas here.
The main points to keep the union in the loop on are collective redundancies, business ownership transfers, pension scheme changes, and health and safety amendments. If you don't let them know about any of these, you could incur fines.
Who pays my employee's trade union fees?
While some members may prefer to pay their union fees on their own, some may prefer them to be taken straight out of their wages. If they do, you can arrange for the payment to be made to the union - this transaction is referred to as the 'check-off'. It isn't mandatory for you to do this but if you do intend to help with it, simply add your right to deduct the fee on behalf of participating employees to your employment contracts.
If you're happy to run the check off, the employee writes, signs, and dates a letter to you to confirm that you are authorised to transfer part of their wages (the amount of the subscription fee) to the trade union.
You then transfer the correct amount from the employee's wages each month starting from the date on the letter until either the employee instructs you to stop (with written notice in advance), leaves the business, or if you decide to stop offering this facility, (you should give them reasonable notice of this).
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