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People management - Trade unions Trade unions are organisations of workers that seek through collective bargaining with

employers to:

Protect and improve the real incomes of their members Provide or improve job security Protect workers against unfair dismissal and other issues relating to employment legislation Lobby for better working conditions Offer a range of other work-related services including support for people claiming compensation for injuries sustained in a job

Individual trade unions have historically been associated with specific industries, trades and professions. Examples of trade unions which are still active include: Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) Communication Workers Union (CWU) Prison Officers Association (POA) Association of Teachers Bakers, Food and and Lecturers (ATL) Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) Fire Brigades Union (FBU) National Union of Journalists (NUJ)

Professional Footballers Transport and General Association (PFA) Workers' Union (T&G)

The two main functions of a trade union are to represent their members and to negotiate with employers. The basic concept behind a trade union is that of increased bargaining and negotiation power which comes from acting together. Not surprisingly, trade unions often refer to a traditional rallying call unity is strength. The traditional view of the employer/trade union relationship has been one of confrontation. However, in most cases employers and union representatives have a constructive relationship. Indeed, it is possible to identify several advantages of unionisation from the employers point of view:

Negotiating with trade unions (ideally a single union) saves time and cost rather than dealing with all employees individually Unions are part of the communication process between the business and employees Employee morale and motivation may be improved if they know that their interests are being protected by a union The trade union can be a supportive partner in helping a business undergo significant change

In the UK there has been a long term decline in union membership. In 2008, only 28% of people in a job in the UK were members of a trade union. That percentage is much lower in the private sector where less than one in six employees is in a union. Unionisation is much higher in the public sector at over 50%. The overall level of trade union membership in the UK is shown in this chart produced by the Office of National Statistics:

From the chart, you can see that total trade union membership in the UK has almost halved from its peak of over 13 million in the late 1970s. The extent of trade union representation also varies enormously by sector. For example, nearly 60% of people working in education are members of a trade union but only 6% of people in hotels and restaurants and only 11% of people working in wholesale, retail and motor trades The main reasons for the decline in union membership are:

Decline in employment in manufacturing (where union membership is traditionally strong) and an increase in employment in the service sector (e.g. retail) where unions are less well established Growth in the number of small firms which tend not to recognise (or need) trade unions Significant growth in flexible working (part-time, temporary, seasonal) where employees see less need for union protection Improved employee involvement in the workplace so less perceived need for collective bargaining

Partly as a result of their declining membership, unions now have significantly less power and influence to determine pay and conditions than twenty years ago although in some industries (including postal workers, railway worker, fire fighters and prison officers) unions are still prepared to exert their industrial muscle. Under UK law employers must recognise a trade union in pay and employment discussions when a majority of the workforce want to be represented and has voted for it. But there is little evidence that union members secure any significant wage mark-up or greater job protection than people in non-union jobs.

Trade union representatives/shop stewards It is common practice for employees to accept a termination package offer from an employer and leave the organisation. The reasons that such a package might be offered include the following:

The employer believes that the employee and another person in the organisation are incompatible and that a mutually agreed separation would be best; The employee is suspected of misconduct but the employer cannot prove it; The employee has committed misconduct or has performed badly but the employer does not want the "hassle" and possible expense of a disciplinary hearing; The employer's operational needs change; The employee is so incapacitated as to be unable to do his/her job anymore; or The boss wants to create a vacancy for a family member.

Where a separation package is accepted by the employee the parties might agree that the amount of the payment will be calculated in the same or similar way to that used for calculating a retrenchment package in terms of section 41 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA). This means that the calculation might be based on the number of years of service of the employee at the company. However, this does not mean that the employee has been retrenched in terms of section 189 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA). In terms of that section, if the employer has operational requirements that might necessitate reductions in staff numbers and terminations, the employer is required to consult with the employees who may be affected or with their representatives. Section 189 allows the employer to retrench employees if there is a good enough basis for this and if the consultation process has been conducted properly. In a section 189 retrenchment the employer does not have to get the agreement of the employees or employee representatives to carry out the retrenchment. Instead, it need only comply with the provisions of the LRA. On the

other hand where there is a mutually agreed separation this, by definition, involves an agreement. A section 189 retrenchment is concluded by a letter from the employer giving the employees notice of termination of employment. However, a termination by mutual consent is concluded by a legal agreement. Employers are warned that they should not get these two types of termination confused. A termination concluded by a genuine and legally binding contract is not classed as a dismissal in the LRA. Whereas a section 189 retrenchment is a type of dismissal and may, in certain cases, be viewed as an unfair dismissal.

In a case recently decided by the Labour appeal court [ABSA Investment Management Services (Pty) Ltd v Crowhurst 2006, [2 BLLR 107] Crowhurst's employment had been terminated. She went to the labour court claiming unfair retrenchment. Absa lost the case and, on appeal, claimed that the employee's employment had been terminated via mutual agreement. Crowhurst claimed that she had been led to believe that her position had become redundant and that she would need to be retrenched as there were no other positions available for her. However, according to Crowhurst, she discovered that there were several vacancies that would have suited her qualifications. The employer's version was that Crowhurst had been offered two alternatives to retrenchment. Confronted with these two conflicting versions, the court had to look closely at the document that had implemented the termination of Crowhurst's employment. It stated that, due to the redundancy of her position, her employment was being terminated. The letter made no reference to a mutually agreed termination or to the alternatives to retrenchment that the employer claimed had been offered to her. The court decided that Crowhurst had, in fact, been retrenched and that this dismissal had been unfair. The employer was therefore required to pay Crowhurst six months' remuneration in compensation and also to pay her legal costs. As the stakes are high when employment is terminated, employers are warned:

To formulate their mutual termination documents to make it clear that the termination is not a dismissal. Record their retrenchment consultations so as to make sure that they are able to prove to the courts what really was and was not said. Avoid leaving termination strategies and processes to those not fully versed in labour law.