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Trade Union Recognition - Appropriate Bargaining Unit

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The transcript in R v Central Arbitration Committee, ex p. Kwik-Fit Ltd has been released, being a judicial review of a decision of the CAC.

The case involves a determination of what is the 'appropriate bargaining unit' in an application for compulsory trade union recognition.

The union, and the CAC (who found for the union), argued that the CAC's obligation was to decide whether the bargaining unit proposed by the union was an 'appropriate bargaining unit'. Only if it was not appropriate should the CAC go on to consider the alternative bargaining unit proposed by the employer.

The employer argued that the CAC's statutory duty was to determine 'the' appropriate bargaining unit, i.e. it had to weigh up the suitability of different bargaining units and decide which was best. It was not entitled just to look at the union's proposal (and hold whether it was appropriate or not) before looking at any other proposals.

The Administrative Court held that the truth lay somewhere in between. The CAC had been wrong in just looking at the union's proposal and deciding whether it was 'appropriate'. If this was the correct approach, the statutory wording would have been clearer. Thus the decision of the CAC must be set aside.

However, it is wrong to say the CAC must choose the most appropriate bargaining unit which is compatible with fair management from the evidence before it - the CAC must, instead, have regard to the purpose of the application for recognition and base its decision as to the most appropriate unit on the location and nature of the workers seeking union recognition. As the court states, "it is obviously no answer to a claim for recognition in Bolton that there is a more appropriate bargaining unit in Liverpool."

[Thanks to John Bowers QC of Littleton Chambers, who successfully represented Kwik-Fit]