Industrial action raises complicated issues and legal advice should always be taken.

Useful information is available from the TUC, individual unions, GOV.UK and the Code of Practice: access and unfair practices during recognition and derecognition ballots. Future developments, at the end of this Q&A, summarises the changes.

For information on redundancy consultations, see our Redundancy collective consultation Q&As.

Current legislation focuses on statutory recognition for trade unions. There have been many academic articles written about the complexities of UK union recognition. In practice, the line between recognition and non-recognition can often blur.

A trade union is recognised when it is:

  • independent, and
  • recognised by an employer, or two or more associated employers, for the purpose of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining has a very specific definition (see What is ‘collective bargaining’ and are ‘collective agreements’ incorporated into employees' contracts?).

Trade union recognition can be either be by voluntary agreement between the parties, or an application can be made for statutory recognition.

Enforced statutory recognition occurs where an independent trade union (or two or more trade unions acting together) makes a request for recognition.

If the employer, together with any associated employer, employs fewer than 21 workers on the day that the request is received the request is invalid as far as the legislation is concerned. It is therefore voluntary for employers with fewer than 21 workers to recognise a union.

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