Trade union recognition: how to apply to the CAC

How trade unions can get recognition for collective bargaining from the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC).

This process is available to independent trade unions which want to be recognised by companies or organisations employing at least 21 workers.

Make a request to the employer

Before you apply to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) you must write to the employer requesting recognition. Your letter must:

  • give the name of the union
  • describe the group of workers the union wants to represent (the bargaining unit)
  • state that the request is made under Schedule A1 to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992

The employer has 10 days to respond. If the employer offers to negotiate, there is a 20-day period to do this. If the employer fails to respond, or rejects your request, you can make an application to the CAC.

Union eligibility to make an application to the CAC

The union can apply to the CAC for recognition if it meets the qualifying conditions set out in the application form. There are a number of qualifying conditions you need to meet.

We will tell you and the employer the names of the CAC panel members who will be considering the application and the name of the case manager who will be your contact at the CAC.

CAC’s union application acceptance process

CAC will ask the employer to complete a response form which will be copied to you. The panel will then look at the information sent by you and the employer to decide if your application meets the qualifying conditions to continue.

The case manager will tell you if the panel needs any additional information and whether a hearing needs to take place. This process should be completed within 20 days of the date we receive your application. The panel will formally decide if your application has been accepted.

If your application is accepted, we’ll proceed to the next stage in the process. If not, you may be in a position to resubmit your application.

Agreeing or deciding the bargaining unit

If you have already agreed the bargaining unit with the employer, there is no need to go through this stage.

If you haven’t agreed the bargaining unit, there is a 20-day period in which you can negotiate with the employer. Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) and the CAC can assist with these negotiations.

If no agreement is reached the bargaining unit will be decided by the CAC at a hearing. You and the employer will be:

  • given adequate notice of the hearing date
  • invited to send us, before the hearing, a written statement of your case

We’ll send you a written decision after the hearing.

If the bargaining unit is different from the unit you proposed in your request to the employer, we may need to reapply some of the tests. The case manager will write to you and the employer with full details of our requirements.

If your application has been accepted, you can ask CAC to appoint an independent agency (a ‘Suitable Independent Person’ or ‘SIP’). The SIP can send, on your behalf, information to the workers in the bargaining unit. You must meet the SIP’s fee and any postage costs.

Ballot for union recognition

If the majority of workers in the bargaining unit aren’t members of the union we’ll arrange a ballot for union recognition.

If the majority or workers in the bargaining unit are union members, we’ll consider whether to declare recognition without a ballot . We’ll take into account any views the employer might put forward.

We’ll send you and the employer a written decision on whether a ballot will take place.

Ballot arrangements

A ballot can be held at the workplace, by post or by a combination of these 2 methods.

We’ll ask for your views and the employer’s before deciding the type of ballot. Once we’ve made that decision, we’ll appoint an independent agency (known as a ‘Qualified Independent Person’) to conduct the ballot.

We’ll consult you and the employer about the arrangements. The cost of the ballot is split equally between you and the employer.

Before the ballot takes place, you and the employer will need to agree a way in which you can meet, and provide information to, the workers in the bargaining unit. If you’re unable to agree these access arrangements, they can be decided by the CAC. You can complain to the CAC if the employer does not give you access or does not fulfil any of its other responsibilities during the balloting period.

During the balloting period neither you nor the employer should use an unfair practice to influence the result of the ballot. You can also complain to the CAC that the other party is using an unfair practice.

The case manager will tell you and the employer the result of the ballot as soon as possible after it’s closed. If the ballot does not support recognition, you can’t make another application to the CAC for 3 years.

Agreeing bargaining machinery

If the ballot supports recognition, you’ll need to agree with the employer a joint negotiating committee through which you will conduct collective bargaining. If you can’t agree this, Acas or the CAC can help you.

If there is still no agreement, you can apply to the CAC to decide what the arrangements should be. If we decide the arrangements, we have to take into account the statutory template Method of Collective Bargaining Statutory Instrument (PDF, 48.7 KB, 8 pages).

Published 23 October 2014