Statutory Recognition and Derecognition of Trade Unions

Under the statutory recognition process, if an employer does not voluntarily recognise it, a trade union may apply to the Industrial Court for the legal right to be recognised by an employer for collective bargaining over pay, hours and holidays, in respect of a group of workers in a particular “bargaining unit”.

The provisions outlined below are found in Schedule 1A to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (as inserted by Article 3 of the Employment Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1999).

In exercising its functions under the Schedule, the Court has a general duty to promote fair and efficient practices and arrangements in the workplace.

Part I

In certain circumstances trade union(s) may apply to the Court for a declaration that it is recognised by the relevant employer to conduct collective bargaining on behalf of a group(s) of workers in a particular bargaining unit.  Such a declaration extends to pay, hours and holidays.
The first decision for the Court upon receipt of an application under Part I of Schedule 1A is whether or not to accept the application.  The Court applies admissibility and validity tests, which are laid out in the Schedule.  These include:

  • whether 10% of the proposed bargaining unit are union members.
  • whether a majority of workers in the proposed bargaining unit are likely to support recognition.

If the application is accepted and the bargaining unit proposed in the Union’s application has not been agreed by the employer:

  • the Court must decide whether the proposed bargaining unit is an appropriate one (primarily whether it is compatible with effective management);
  • if the Union’s proposed bargaining unit is not appropriate, the Court must decide an appropriate one;
  • if the Court decides a different bargaining unit to that in the original application then the earlier validity and admissibility tests are re-applied;
  • if the application remains valid and over 50% of workers in the bargaining unit are members of the Union the Court may declare that the Union is recognised;
  • for certain specified reasons (such as in the interest of good industrial relations) the Court may decide to hold a secret ballot even where the Union has over 50% membership of the bargaining unit;
  • if the Union does not have over 50% membership the Court will always arrange for a secret ballot;
  • if a ballot is held the Court will grant recognition where a majority of participants in the ballot, and at least 40% of the workers constituting the bargaining unit, vote in favour of recognition.

Where the Court issues a declaration granting recognition, or where a Semi-Voluntary Agreement has been concluded, the parties have 30 days to negotiate and agree a bargaining procedure.  If no agreement can be reached, even with the Court’s assistance, the Court will determine the procedure.

For further information please refer to the Court's Statutory Recognition Guidance for the Parties (PDF 413 KB).

Part II

After a request for recognition has been made under Part I, it is possible for a recognition agreement to be made between the parties before the Court has determined the application.  This is called a Semi-Voluntary Agreement and Part II stipulates that the Employer must maintain that agreement for 3 years unless the Union ends it before that time.  If, after reaching a Semi-Voluntary Agreement, the parties are unable to agree a bargaining procedure, they can apply to the Court for it to determine one.

Part III

This part of Schedule 1A sets out the procedure to be followed by the parties and the Court where a Union was recognised through the statutory procedures and, as a result of a change in the Employer’s business, either the Union or the Employer believes the bargaining unit has changed or has ceased to exist.

Parts IV and V

These parts of the Schedule provide, in certain circumstances, for the Court to declare a Union derecognised where the Employer or workers in the bargaining unit make such a request, and where recognition resulted from an earlier declaration by the Court.

Part VI

This part of the Schedule provides for workers to be able to invoke that statutory derecognition procedure where an employer has voluntarily recognised a union which does not have a certificate of independence.

Part VII

This part of the Schedule sets out the effect of a trade union recognised through the statutory procedure losing its certificate of independence.