CBI opposes changes to statutory collective bargaining requirements
During June 2005, the main UK employers’ organisation, the CBI, published a submission made in response to a government review of whether the scope of the statutory collective bargaining arrangements that can potentially be imposed on employers should be extended to include training and pensions issues.
The UK government is reviewing whether the core bargaining issues of pay, hours and holidays that are covered by the statutory trade union recognition procedure (UK0007183F) should be extended to include training and pensions. The move stems from the 'Warwick agreement' reached between trade union and Labour party leaders in July 2004 (UK0409102N) which provided for a number of employment law reforms and other policy commitments.
Under the Employment Relations Act 1999, where unions trigger the statutory trade union recognition procedure and recognition is supported in a ballot by a majority of the workers in a bargaining unit and at least 40% of those eligible to vote, the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) must issue a declaration that the union is recognised as entitled to conduct collective bargaining on behalf of the bargaining unit. The union and the employer then have a period of 30 working days within which to agree a method by which they will conduct collective bargaining. If the parties fail to do so, the CAC will specify the method by which they will conduct collective bargaining. This will have effect as if it were a legally binding contract between the parties and will be enforceable via the courts. The Trade Union Recognition (Method of Collective Bargaining) Order 2000 sets out a government-specified bargaining method, involving the establishment of joint negotiating body to negotiate the pay, hours and holidays of the workers comprising the bargaining unit, which the CAC must take into account in exercising its powers. Unions recognised in this way are also entitled to be consulted by the employer on training issues.
The government’s view is that the issues covered by collective bargaining under the statutory procedure should not exceed those typically covered by voluntary recognition agreements. Following its 2003 review of the 1999 Act (UK0303102N), the government said that it did not intend to add training to the list of core bargaining issues for the purposes of the statutory recognition procedure, but that it would empower the trade and industry secretary to add pensions, 'with a view to exercising that power when there is evidence that typical practice in voluntary recognition agreements is for pensions to be included as a bargaining topic'. This power was granted to the trade and industry secretary by the Employment Relations Act 2004 (UK0411101N).
In March 2005, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) published a call for evidence of voluntary bargaining between employers and trade unions over pensions and/or training. On 17 June, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) published its response to the DTI review arguing that an extension of the scope of the statutory collective bargaining rules would impose a 'legislative straitjacket' on firms’ discussions with employees over pensions and training. CBI deputy director-general John Cridland said that: 'Business needs no encouragement to talk to staff about these mutually important issues, but it doesn’t want or need a rigid framework to do so'.
In its submission to the government’s previous review of the 1999 Act, the Trades Union Congress urged the government to include training, equality and pensions issues among the matters specified by the statutory collective bargaining provisions.
The 1998 Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS) showed that whereas 36% of employee representatives said they were consulted over training, only 7% said they negotiated over it. More recent DTI-commissioned research into the content of voluntary trade union recognition agreements between 1998 and 2002 shows that pensions and training were specifically identified as subjects for negotiation in under one in ten agreements, but specifically excluded in nearly one-third. However, 56% of the agreements defined the scope of bargaining in more general terms as covering 'pay and conditions', an expression which could potentially include pensions or training.
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