Review finds that Employment Relations Act is 'working well'
3 March 2003 - A DTI review of The Employment Relations Act (1999) indicates that
it is succeeding in delivering
better working standards and promoting a new climate of co-operation
between workers and employers.
The Employment Relations Act 1999 introduced:
* A statutory procedure for trade unions to be recognised (or
derecognised) for collective bargaining purposes in organizations employing more
than 20 workers. The Act provides for
recognition to be awarded by an independent public body (the
(a) either a majority of the relevant workforce are union members
(so-called "automatic recognition) ; or
(b) following a ballot where a majority of those voting and at least
40% of those entitled to vote support recognition.
* The right for a worker to be accompanied by a trade union official
at disciplinary and grievance hearings
* New protections against dismissal for employees taking official,
lawfully-organised industrial action, making it unfair to dismiss
in the 8 weeks following the commencement of action and thereafter
if the employer has not taken all reasonable procedural steps to
resolve the dispute.
* Strengthened rights to belong to a union.
* Measures to promote family- friendly working.
* Reform of tribunal awards for unfair dismissal (for example, by
raising the maximum limit of compensatory awards from £12,000 to
Review of the Act
Key findings of the review include:
- Recognition procedure has operated smoothly with cases
now decided in less than half the time. Inter-union disputes and legal challenges are rare
- The Act has encouraged voluntary settlement of
recognition claims since 1998. Employers and unions have reached
over 1,000 voluntary recognition agreements.
However, a number of changes are proposed to improve the
efficiency and clarity of the law, including:
* Provision of earlier access rights to unions in recognition cases.
Clarification of the law on the 'right to be accompanied' so companions
can contribute during disciplinary or grievance hearings.
Establishment of a new legal right for workers to access their union's
The DTI will also consider modifying aspects of trade union law,
including the law on political fund ballots and union elections to
lighten the administrative burdens on unions. But the review finds no
evidence to support changing the central pillars of the Act, such as:
- the rules governing automatic recognition, where the majority are
- the 40% threshold for statutory recognition ballots.
- the exclusion of workplaces with less than 21 employees from
- the eight week period of protection for striking workers against
dismissal - though the review suggests that days on which workers
are locked out might be disregarded.
Employment Relations Minister, Alan Johnson, said:
"The evidence suggests that this law is working well. The fine-tuning
proposed today will make it work even better. The number of strikes is at an all time low, while the number of
people in work is at an all time high. With the success of this law, a new culture at work is emerging.
Employers and unions are working together. And together, we are
Consultation ends on 22 May 2003.
Commenting on the review of the Employment Relations Act, Brendan Barber,
TUC General Secretary Elect said:
"While there are some useful advances in this White Paper that will make a
real difference to people at work, unions will find the Government’s rejection of many TUC
proposals extremely disappointing. The government would be unwise to ignore the real anger
in unions today. Our call for people at work to have a right to be represented by a union
when a majority back it, irrespective of the size of the business, is a basic human right.
'Our call for an end to the rigged votes in recognition ballots where
abstentions count the same as votes against is a simple matter of democracy. Our call to end the right of employers to sack staff after eight weeks on
strike would enshrine the basic human right to withdraw your labour. Of course we welcome the measures that will help people at work and the
technical improvements in employment law and union recognition procedures, but on balance
the white paper has been too influenced by business lobbying.
'But this is a consultation document. It is not too late for the government
to recognise the justice of our case. We will be pressing hard during the consultation
period for progress on the small firms exemption, the recognition ballot threshold,
protection for striking workers, full implementation of the requirements brought about
by the Wilson Palmer case, and proper protection for union members from victimisation
by companies resisting union recognition claims.'