Employment Relations Act 2004 receives Royal Assent

United Kingdom

Changes to Trade Union and Industrial Action Law

The Employment Relations Act 2004 received royal assent on 16 September 2004, implementing the findings of a review of the Employment Relations Act 1999 that took place in 2002. The new Act focuses mainly on the recognition and derecognition of trade unions and the conducting of ballots and collective bargaining and therefore will have most effect on industries that are unionised.

There are, however, some provisions with more wide-reaching effects. The Act clarifies the role of the companion in grievance and disciplinary hearings stating that a companion can address the hearing in order to put or sum up the worker's case, respond on the worker's behalf to any view expressed at the hearing and confer with the worker during the hearing. As is currently the case, the companion will not be allowed to answer questions on the employee's behalf.

The Act also extends the protection offered to employees who are dismissed for reasons connected with a request for flexible working arrangements. Most significantly it removes the qualification period for an unfair dismissal claim in such cases.

Trade Union Recognition

The Act aims to:

  • improve the operation of the statutory recognition procedure for trade unions including allowing the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) to vary time limits for determination of the "bargaining unit";
  • set out the conditions for balloting workers when determining a union's application for recognition;
  • clarify what constitutes 'unfair practices' in relation to ballots concerning union recognition.

Ballots and Industrial Action

The Act aims to:

  • simplify the law on industrial action ballots and ballot notices;
  • increase employees' protection against being dismissed for taking lawful industrial action;
  • protect employees from being offered inducements to surrender their collective representation;

The Act will come into force in stages between October 2004 and April 2005. It is being published by HMSO on Tuesday 28 September 2004.

If you require further assistance with the impact of this Act on your business please contact Simon Jeffreys at [email protected] or on +44 (0) 20 7367 3421or Anthony Fincham at [email protected] or on + 44 (0) 20 7367 2783 or Alex Green at [email protected] or on +44 (0) 1224 621764.