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Trade Unions & Works Councils

Our Trade Union and Collective Rights team advises employers on all aspects of industrial relations and collective employment law.

Our team works with employers across all sectors to manage their engagement with trade unions and works councils. It has particular experience in advising on engaging with unions in the context of collective consultation exercises, union recognition applications and industrial action. It also advises on overlaps between individual and collective rights in areas such as union blacklisting, unlawful inducements relating to collective bargaining and claims for detriment or dismissal based on trade union duties or activities.

Proactive industrial relations strategies help employers avoid industrial disputes. Disputes are nevertheless sometimes unavoidable. Our team has experience of successfully defending our clients’ interests in the Central Arbitration Committee, Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal, High Court and Court of Appeal in such circumstances.

Collective Consultation

Our team develops proactive industrial relations strategies for businesses that need to engage in collective consultation. These take into account both legal and commercial considerations, and wider issues such as unions’ leverage campaign tactics. Its recent experience includes advising employers with heavily unionised workforces on the closure of their defined benefit pension schemes, the closure of operations at some or all of their sites in the UK and the implementation of new terms and conditions of employment by way of “fire and rehire” exercises.

For further information, please see our guides on collective redundanciesTUPE and information and consultation under the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004.

Trade Union Recognition

Our team regularly negotiates, renegotiates and advises on union recognition agreements. It also has significant experience in defending statutory recognition requests. Its experience of this includes appearing in arbitration proceedings at ACAS, acting in disputes before the Central Arbitration Committee, and representing clients in the higher courts.

For further information, please see our guide on trade union recognition.

Industrial Action

Proactive industrial relations strategies help employers avoid industrial action. Strikes and industrial action short of a strike are nevertheless sometimes unavoidable. Our team advises on all aspects of industrial action including union balloting, picketing, the withholding of pay, the use of agency workers, responding to unions’ leverage campaign tactics, and the strategic considerations involved in deciding whether to seek a strike injunction and applying for it.

For further information, please see our guide on industrial action.


Related items

Unions’ financial liability increased and government moves to repeal agency worker ban

30 June 2022

Against a backdrop of widespread industrial action, the government has quadrupled unions’ potential liability for calling unlawful strikes to £1,000,000. It has also published legislation to repeal the ban on agencies supplying workers to fill in for striking staff.


When is collective bargaining exhausted and a direct offer of new employment terms allowed? The EAT confirms an objective test

21 June 2022

In the first reported application of the Supreme Court’s landmark Kostal decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has ruled that an employer could not unilaterally declare that its negotiations with its recognised trade union had finished. As unionised employers may only make direct offers to employees after exhausting their collective bargaining procedure, the employer now faces punitive fines.

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Will the government repeal the ban on agencies supplying workers to fill in during strikes?

16 June 2022

Transport secretary Grant Shapps hit the headlines this week when he announced that the government is considering legal changes to allow agencies to supply workers to fill in for striking staff. This is in response to planned strikes across the rail network next week.

Court of Appeal lifts restriction on employers responding to industrial action

07 April 2022

The Court of Appeal has ruled that UK legislation does not prevent employers from taking steps falling short of dismissal in response to industrial action. The UK may be in breach of its international commitments over trade union rights, but it is for Parliament and not the courts to address this sensitive issue.

Deal; Handshake

High Court grants injunction to restrain employer’s ‘fire and rehire’ exercise

18 February 2022

The High Court has granted an injunction preventing Tesco from “firing and rehiring” employees in order to remove a contractual entitlement to enhanced pay. While the facts of this case were unusual and it is unlikely to lead to a flood of similar cases, with the practice of “fire and rehire” coming under increasing scrutiny, we consider the implications for employers.

New TUC proposals: trade unions to inform and inspire platform workers

17 December 2021

The Trades Union Congress has called for trade unions to have a digital right of access to platform and gig economy workers and for the introduction of sectoral collective bargaining. These calls follow the Labour Party’s commitment that the next Labour government will give these rights and others to trade unions.

New judgment further restricts employers’ scope for responding to industrial action

01 December 2021

The Employment Appeal Tribunal recently interpreted the law on detrimental treatment for trade union activities in a way that limits the scope for employers to respond to industrial action. In another decision, it has now decided that participating staff may also bring claims under separate blacklisting regulations, which entitle employees to potentially far greater compensation in the form of an automatic minimum award of £5,000.

Contract breaking up is never easy

Unions have no veto over changes to terms, Supreme Court confirms

28 October 2021

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court has confirmed that trade unions do not enjoy a veto over employers making direct offers to their members to change their terms and conditions of employment.

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