United Kingdom

The ITUC affiliate in Great Britain is the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The Office for National Statistics estimates the number of people employed on a stand-by basis, “zero-hour contracts”, at between 200,000 to 250,000 which demonstrates the prevalence of underemployment in the UK. Under these contracts employees have to be available for work but are not guaranteed a minimum number of hours. These contracts create income insecurity for workers and also undermine family life. In fact, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development calculated that up to four per cent of workers could have been forced to accept such contracts. It has been revealed that Sports Direct employs around 20,000 of its 23,000 staff on these contracts. Other companies using zero-hour contracts extensively include cinema chain Cineworld, Buckingham Palace and JD Wetherspoon.

On 25 March 2013, the House of Lords debated the amendment of the Crime and Courts Bill which would prevent over 3,000 civil servants working for the National Crime Agency from taking strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
action in the future.

In practice

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In January 2013, the University of Exeter offered a 2 per cent pay increase but only if staff agreed to withdraw from national pay bargaining.

In February 2013, the Metropolitan Police announced that it would carry out a major investigation with respect to allegations that the police colluded with the blacklisting of construction workers. The investigation is to be supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The decision to hold the investigation follows mounting evidence that both the police and the security forces were involved in the blacklisting of construction workers via the Consulting Association.

In January 2013, the government announced that it will introduce further limits to compensation for unfair dismissal.

Demonstrations took place outside parliament on 25 October in protest at the Public Bodies Bill, which if passed would lead to the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, the organisation for setting minimum wages and employment conditions in the agricultural sector. An amendment to take the AWB off the list of public bodies to be abolished was defeated in the House of Commons. The labour movement now fears downward pressure on terms and conditions for the estimated 150,000 people working in agriculture.

In March 2011, the Court of Appeal lifted two injunctions against Aslef and the RMT who, following ballots, had called for strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
action in disputes with the London and Birmingham Midland Railway and Serco / Docklands Light Railway respectively. Injunctions had earlier been granted on procedural errors in the ballots. The Court of Appeal clarified the extent of the technical obligations on unions with regard to ballots. Building on its ruling in the British Airways case, it confirmed that minor and accidental ballot errors can be disregarded, if they are immaterial to the result. It opposed applying a ‘standard of perfection’ test that would ‘set traps or hurdles for the union which have no legitimate purpose or function’.

Nonetheless, this was still a topic of some controversy in 2011, with the employers’ organisation employers’ organisation A body of employers associated for the collective protection and promotion of their interests. Can engage in collective bargaining with trade unions or trade union organisations. , the Confederation of British Industry, calling on 17 June for changes to the law. In particular, they have called for a minimum threshold to be introduced requiring 40 per cent of members who are balloted to vote in favour before a strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
can be called. Under these proposals a simple majority of those voting would not longer be sufficient.

In August 2011, Plymouth City Council derecognised Unison, the largest union among its staff, after it refused to sign a new collective agreement. Unison alleged that the agreement meant worse pay and conditions for staff and was potentially discriminatory and called derecognition an ‘aggressive and disproportionate response’. After the agreement was revised, Unison agreed to sign it if recognition recognition The designation by a government agency of a union as the bargaining agent for workers in a given bargaining unit, or acceptance by an employer that its employees can be collectively represented by a union. was restored. Re-recognition recognition The designation by a government agency of a union as the bargaining agent for workers in a given bargaining unit, or acceptance by an employer that its employees can be collectively represented by a union. was granted in mid-September.

The case underlined union concerns that, in the context of public spending cuts, employers elsewhere in the public sector (where recognition recognition The designation by a government agency of a union as the bargaining agent for workers in a given bargaining unit, or acceptance by an employer that its employees can be collectively represented by a union. is traditionally very high) might use derecognition to push through cuts in pay and conditions – either as a bargaining tactic or as a longer-term strategy.

The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission published the results of an inquiry into the recruitment and treatment of agency workers in the meat and poultry processing sector in England and Wales. It found evidence of widespread poor treatment of agency workers both by agencies and by user enterprises. Moreover, it found that abusive treatment was less common in organised factories, and stated that “In workplaces where unions are recognised, or have a strong presence, we found that they provide a significant degree of protection for workers”. However, some workers reported that their right to freedom of association freedom of association The right to form and join the trade union of one’s choosing as well as the right of unions to operate freely and carry out their activities without undue interference.

See Guide to the ITUC international trade union rights framework
had been restricted and also reported instances where hostility of companies towards union activities discouraged people from joining a union for fear of retribution.

Protection against anti-union discrimination anti-union discrimination Any practice that disadvantages a worker or a group of workers on grounds of their past, current or prospective trade union membership, their legitimate trade union activities, or their use of trade union services. Can constitute dismissal, transfer, demotion, harassment and the like.

See Guide to the ITUC international trade union rights framework

(unfair practices) only applies within the framework of organising organising The process of forming or joining a trade union, or inducing other workers to form or join one. a recognition recognition The designation by a government agency of a union as the bargaining agent for workers in a given bargaining unit, or acceptance by an employer that its employees can be collectively represented by a union. ballot, whereas a lot of employer misconduct may take place at a much earlier stage when the union is trying to organise, recruit and build up some kind of structure. Unscrupulous employers commonly employ a variety of anti-union tactics, including threats of closure of the plant and individual job loss, actual dismissals, pay and promotion inducements, holding a company ballot in advance of an independently conducted ballot, denial of any access to a union including preventing leaflets being given to the employees, holding anti-union meetings at the workplace, one-on-one meetings, and changes to the bargaining unit bargaining unit A group of workers within a particular company, establishment, industry or occupation that constitutes an appropriate unit for the purpose of collective bargaining.

See bargaining agent
- either splitting it or combining it with others.

In the shipping sector, contracts of employment have been found to expressly forbid individuals from contacting a recognised trade union so as to favour the conclusion of “workforce agreements” with workers’ representatives rather than collective agreements with trade unions, thereby weakening the terms and conditions of employment in this sector.

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