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Ryanair Pilots set up unofficial Union- What are the rules surrounding a Trade Union membership and collective agreements?

BY Donald MacKinnon
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

A letter has been leaked to the press that says that pilots at Ryanair are attempting to disrupt the way the company are attempting to negotiate...

The management are looking to negotiate with Employee Representative Committees (ERCs) at each base where they operate. However, a group of pilots that call themselves the ‘Central Committee’ want to disband these groups and negotiate as a single entity to improve their bargaining power. The letter states that the committee was set up to:

“oppose the longstanding strategy of divide and conquer that Ryanair has applied in its dealing with pilots”

Ryanair do not recognise a trade union and do not tend to negotiate with them. Recent decades have seen a large reduction in trade union membership as a result of change to the way the UK workforce operates and the fact that successive governments have sought to limit Union power. Let’s look at the legislation around trade union membership and what obligations you have as employers when dealing with them.

What does the law say about Trade Union Membership and Agreements?

Employers do not need to recognise a trade union however, it is illegal to treat any employee unfavourably if they are a member or choose to join a union. Dismissal for joining, wanting to join a union or taking part in union activities will be deemed automatically unfair under the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Employers can choose however, to enter into an agreement with a trade union. This agreement is also known as ‘recognition’ of a trade union, and negotiations between the business and the union is called Collective Bargaining. The agreements made between the sides are known as Collective Agreements. Recognition of a trade union can be a complicated process, so you should seek advice if your employees are asking for this.

Those who do not recognise a trade union or have few employees who are members may not deal with them frequently, but it is important to know what you may be required to do if an employee is a member. If for example, you are going through a disciplinary or grievance procedure with an employee, along with a work colleague, a trade union representative is one of the people allowed to accompany the employee at a hearing as stated in the ACAS Code of Practice.  If you recognise a union, Trade union representatives have a statutory right to reasonable paid time off to carry out trade union duties and activities, to undergo training, and to accompany a worker to a grievance or disciplinary hearing.

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