Socialist Worker

Time to unionise

Issue No. 1679

As law on recognition comes into force

Time to unionise

THE GOVERNMENT'S new Employment Relations Act will become law over the next four months. It will give workers in Britain the opportunity to win trade union recognition. Major trade unions are already starting union drives. Price check supermarket workers won recognition before Christmas. Every worker should try to follow their example and make the most of New Labour's legislation.

The act will be introduced in stages.

MARCH 2000

A worker at a disciplinary hearing will have the right to be accompanied by a trade union member or official even if their company does not recognise a union. A survey found that in cases of gross misconduct a worker is seven times more likely to keep their job if their union represents them.

MAY 2000

Any workplace with 21 workers or more will have the legal right to press for union recognition.

There are two routes to union recognition:

By ballot: A union has to show 10 percent membership in any workplace. Then the union has to win the support of 40 percent of the entire workforce in a ballot.

Automatic: A union has to show it has a membership of 50 percent plus one in any workplace.

There are important discussions about determining the "bargaining unit"-the group of people to be balloted.

The Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) will ultimately make that decision but that can be challenged.

To apply for union recognition a trade union must give a written request to management. The employer has ten working days to respond.

Plans afoot

A RECORD number of recognition deals were signed in the first ten months of last year-the highest since the TUC began keeping records four years ago. Around 75 companies have agreed to recognise trade unions. Now unions are gearing up to recruit new members.

  • Communication Workers Union has set a target of 12,000 new recruits. Recruitment campaigns are underway at Cable and Wireless and Virgin Mobile.
  • Transport and General Workers Union: Pricecheck workers will spearhead the TGWU's union drive in shops and restaurants throughout London, Birmingham and Glasgow.
  • Graphical, Paper and Media Union has hired five full time recruitment officers targeting 50 major workplaces.
  • UNIFI plans to recruit 14,500 new members this year, targeting non-union call centres including Direct Line, Sainsbury Bank, Tesco Bank, Standard Life Bank and M&S Financial Services.
  • Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers is targeting major workplaces like Tesco and Sainsbury which already have recognition.

'We won at Pricecheck'

"OUR CAMPAIGN started just over a year ago when management told the workers they had to work at Christmas without any extra pay. A few workers who were TGWU members went around the company's nine shops asking people to join the union. We recruited 60 percent of the workforce to the union. But still our boss refused to accept it. We organised pickets of the stores and got fantastic support from local trade unionists. Without the pickets our manager would not have accepted the union. We've now got an agreed pay rise, proper holiday time and the union making sure the workplace is safe. Our battle is not over. Recognition is no use unless we build a strong union. Our advice to everyone fighting for union recognition is don't wait for Labour's new laws to come in. Get started now."

  • IFTIKHAR UL-HAQ, Pricecheck worker, central London

"I STARTED talking to people in the office and discovered there were individual union members. I got in touch with the national union and a regional official eventually agreed to call a meeting. Some 25 people came along. Most people who volunteered to be floor reps had never been to a union meeting before. People were buzzing after the meeting. That created an atmosphere where people wanted to know more about the union. For the next meeting we invited our local Labour MP to speak about the new legislation. We haven't yet achieved recognition, but we have forced management to take us seriously."

  • MSF MEMBER, London

-What you can do-

Non-unionised workplaces

IF YOU are in an unorganised workplace you may face a hostile management who want to stop you building a union. That means being inventive.

  • Firstly find out what union is relevant to where you work by phoning the TUC on 020 7636 4030.
  • Join the union. Ask the national office to send you any leaflets and recruitment forms. You can see if it has details of any other union members in your office.
  • You can ask supporters to hand out union leaflets outside the workplace as workers come in. On the inside you can be imaginative about how you distribute leaflets. Every worker uses the toilet so why not put some leaflets in the washroom?
  • Call a meeting off works premises, like in a local community centre or pub. Ask a union official to come along.
  • Don't trust management! Don't tell them what you are doing and don't put activists' names on leaflets.
  • Your union officials may sign a "sweetheart" deal, where the union makes big concessions to get recognition. This can even include giving up the right to strike.

But don't be deterred. It is still possible to fight. For example, Tesco warehouse workers, whose union signed a sweetheart deal, have recently begun to fight back.

-What you can do-


IF YOU are in an organised workplace:

  • The new legislation will make workers more aware of why it is important to be in a union. Few workplaces have 100 percent union membership so use the opportunity to recruit more members and revitalise your union branch.
  • Go round your office or factory and ask everyone who is not a member to join the union.
  • Make sure the union is relevant to the people you work with. Is there a union noticeboard? Are meetings advertised, with interesting speakers invited?
  • Contact your local trades council and other unions to find out if they've organised any activity around the legislation. Why not suggest targeting a local non-union workplace with leaflets and recruitment cards?

THE TUC has produced a useful guide, The Employment Relations Act: New Rights at Work. You can order one for 5 from the TUC.

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Article information

Thu 13 Jan 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1679
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