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Compulsory Union Recognition: Fragmentation of Bargaining Units

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Should single small units of an employer's workforce not be subject to compulsory trade union recognition given the statutory requirement to consider the desirability of avoiding small fragmented bargaining units?

No, held the Court of Appeal, in Lidl v CAC, turning down Lidl's appeal against a refusal of judicial review against a declaration by the Central Arbitration Committee recognising the GMB.

The GMB had sought recognition for warehouse operatives at a Lidl warehouse in Bridgend, involving around 1.2% of Lidl's total workforce. There were no other recognition agreements in place. Lidl's objections to recognition included that the statutory provisions in Sch. A1 TULRCA provided for 'the desirability of avoiding small fragmented bargaining units within an undertaking'.

Lidl argued unsuccessfully that such a small bargaining unit was not compatible with effective management and it would be 'fragmented'. The Court held that the provisions relating to fragmentation of bargaining units cover fragmentation of recognition between bargaining units or fragmented collective bargaining (e.g. two unions each having small bargaining units with similar workforces in the same employer), but not where there was a single bargaining unit in the workplace with no risk of a proliferation of bargaining units arising if recognition were given.

The Court noted: "It has long been regarded as undesirable...that employers should have to negotiate in more than one forum...and, more particularly, with more than one trade respect of parts of their workforce who were not essentially different."

Thanks to Ed McFarlane of Deminos HR for preparing this case summary.