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What do SME business owners need to know about trade unions?

If you’re a small business owner in the UK, you may be wondering about the legal and regulatory framework governing your relationship with trade unions, especially given the increased levels of industrial action over recent months.

It is important to understand your obligations and rights when working with unions, to ensure that you comply with the law and promote a positive workplace culture.

Trade unions have a legal right to represent workers in collective bargaining with their employers. This means that they have the power to negotiate with employers on behalf of employees, to improve their working conditions, pay, and job security. As a small employer, you are subject to the same legal obligations as larger employers when it comes to recognising and negotiating with trade unions.

The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 provides the legal framework for collective bargaining between trade unions and employers in the UK. This law sets out guidelines for union organisation, elections, and other key aspects of labour relations. It is important to be aware of these guidelines, as they outline your legal obligations as an employer in relation to trade unions.

If your employees vote in favour of union recognition, you are legally required to recognise the union and engage in collective bargaining with them. This means that you must negotiate with the union on issues such as pay, working conditions, and job security. It is important to approach these negotiations in good faith and to work collaboratively with the union to find mutually acceptable solutions.

In addition to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, small employers must also comply with other relevant legislation, such as the Employment Rights Act 1996. This law sets out the minimum rights of employees in the UK, including the right to join a trade union, to be protected from unfair dismissal, and to receive a minimum wage.

Working with trade unions can present some challenges for small businesses, such as limited resources and expertise to engage in collective bargaining. However, it’s important to approach these challenges in a positive and proactive manner. By recognising the legal rights and obligations of trade unions and small employers, business owners can take steps to build positive and productive relationships with unions and their employees.

Understanding the legal and regulatory framework for trade unions and small employers in the UK is an important first step in building positive workplace relationships and promoting a productive and positive working environment for your employees.

If you have employees who have joined trade unions or you are in dispute with a trade union, contact us today for advice.

Amanda Hyam

Senior Associate – Dispute Resolution / Employment

I have specialised in Dispute Resolution, Civil Litigation and Employment law for more than 15 years.  I understand how daunting the prospect of litigation can be and because of this I am always available to discuss concerns.