Is Trade Union membership rising?

Recent research shows a 184% increase in Google searches for “join union” following the rail and bin strikes and searches for “how to strike” increased by 135% at the same time.

A combined situation of rising inflation, household bills and real time pay cuts has caused many to worry and push for more from their employers. Below is up to date information on Trade Unions in the workplace:

A trade union is an organisation made up of workers whose purpose is maintaining and improving terms and conditions of their members, and ensuring that employers remain compliant with employment law. They also provide advice to their membership, training and financial assistance.


One of the ways that trade unions interact with employers is through their work as personal and professional representatives in grievance and disciplinary hearings. Under The Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures (2015), employees are entitled to be accompanied by an official trade union representative. Specifically, these are individuals who have been trained for that purpose (it cannot simply be someone who is a member of a union). It is not necessary for the employer to have had any previous interaction with the union or union representative for an employee to be accompanied by them at formal proceedings.


A union is said to be “recognised” by an employer when they are involved in collective bargaining. This can come about in the following ways.

  1. Voluntary trade union recognition where a trade union has not applied for statutory recognition.

This occurs when employers voluntarily agree arrangements for collective bargaining with a union. As this is not a contractual arrangement, breaching the agreement on either side would not lead to any legal consequences.


  1. Voluntary trade union recognition where a trade union has applied for statutory recognition.

Where an employer refuses in the first instance to engage with a trade union, the union may apply for statutory recognition. To do this, it will submit a formal request. This can only be done where the employer has 21 or more workers.

Should the employer agree, within 10 days, to voluntarily recognise the union, then the statutory process stops, and the process reverts to 1 (above).


  1. Statutory trade union recognition.

Where there is no agreement, then the union may apply to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC). In order to do this, they would need to provide evidence that at least 10% of the workers in the proposed bargaining unit (which the union would represent) were members of the union, and that a majority of the bargaining unit would vote in favour of union recognition.

When agreed under the statutory process, the following matters can be included in collective bargaining.

    • Terms and conditions of employment
    • Allocation of work and duties.
    • Disciplinary matters.
    • A worker’s membership of a trade union.
    • Facilities for trade union officials.
    • Negotiations and consultation procedures relating to the above.


In order to generate official industrial action, a Trade Union must follow strict balloting and notification requirements set down in law. These requirements do not involve negotiating with the employer.  There is an expectation that, as we head into a difficult winter, larger numbers of employees may apply to join a trade union which is likely to have the effect of those unions applying for recognition. If you require any support in dealing with Trade Unions, contact

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