Most honest and decent companies have no problem in recognising trade unions, in fact it is the norm in most large businesses. Less friendly companies like Samworth Brothers, however, prefer not to engage in democratic dialogue with their employees, and so are presently attempting to bully and intimidate their workers in order to prevent the democratic organisation of their workers within unions.
Nevertheless, it is an undisputed fact that the European Court of Human Rights states that the right to collective bargaining is a human right and a core element of the right to form and to join trade unions. Workers not only have the right to benefit from individual union membership, they also have the right to campaign to bargain collectively.
In the UK, trade union recognition is usually gained on the basis of a voluntary agreement between workers and their employer. This sort of democratic agreement is something that the management at Samworth Brothers are completely opposed to. So workers at Samworth can be thankful that since 2000 a law (or statutory mechanism) has existed that allows unions to gain recognition even when the employer is opposed to it – a process that the Bakers Union is presently being forced to use with the Samworth management.
If everything goes to plan for Samworth employees, the Bakers Union will, in the near future, be officially recognised to negotiate agreements with the employer on pay and other terms and conditions on behalf of a group of workers (called a “bargaining unit”). This process is known as collective bargaining.
Initially, at the Samworth Brothers’ Kettleby factory, where Kumaran Bose and others have been so successful in recruiting people to join the Bakers Union, the union first had to formally submit a written request to Samworth Brothers asking for union recognition. This offer was however, after much messing about, rejected by management. As a result the Bakers Union were consequently forced to make a formal application in writing to an independent body known as the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) – an application which was accepted because of the high number of union members present at Kettleby.
At this stage in proceedings, bullying bosses can — if they want to demonstrate their contempt for their workers — attempt to persuade the Central Arbitration Committee to reject the application by using all manner of dirty tricks to show that their employees reject the idea of collective bargaining. This is something I will deal with later.
At present Samworth management are telling their workers that the secret ballot relating to trade union recognition will be held sometime at the end of August. Here it should be noted that the ballot can either be held by post, or at the workplace, or a combination of the two – a decision which ultimately rests with the Central Arbitration Committee.
Sadly some bosses, like those at Samworth Brothers, appear to think they are above the law in terms of pressurising their workers not to support union recognition, therefore in a governmental effort to try to minimise such bullying, in 2005, a Code of Practice was introduced known as the Access and unfair practices during recognition and derecognition ballots (which can be read online).
This important Code of Conduct gives advice to employers on what arrangements should be made to ensure that the union, in this case the Bakers Union, gets a fair opportunity to put its case to workers at Kettleby. Obviously it would be unfair for management to hold company-run presentations attacking recognition arrangements (as Samworth have been doing) without giving representatives of the Bakers Union the same opportunities to talk to workers.
In the run-up to the forthcoming ballot the government therefore suggests that workers should be able to attend a mass meeting organised by the union in the workplace (lasting at least 30 minutes for every 10 days of the access period in the run-up to the ballot), and, where appropriate, for “surgeries” to be held during working hours where workers can meet with the union individually or in small groups. In addition, the government’s Code of Conduct is clear that the union should be allowed to display material in a prominent place in the workplace, and where appropriate, workers should have access to information on the internet and by email.
The Code of Conduct for recognition arrangements also goes on to list a variety of unfair practices that are prohibited during the balloting process, which include offers of money, threats or coercion intending to influence the outcome of the ballot. Furthermore, it is unlawful for an employer to offer any worker an inducement not to join a union, take part in union activities, or use union services. It is also unlawful for an employer to offer a member of a trade union that is seeking recognition, an inducement to stop or prevent their terms and conditions being negotiated by a union through collective bargaining.
To conclude, there can be no doubt that in the eyes of the law, the ballot for trade union recognition should be carried out in a fair and democratic fashion by the Samworth Brothers working alongside the Bakers Union. Clearly, to date, the management at Samworth Brothers are not playing fair, so if you have any information about ways in which the bosses at Samworth are playing foul, then make sure you get in contact with the Bakers Union so they can pass on this information on to the independent Central Arbitration Committee.