Employers should consult unions on changes to contracts, says court

31 Jul 2017 By Hayley Kirton

Decisions on holiday pay or working hours may require union involvement

Businesses should consult unions before making changes to contracts that will affect their members, the Court of Appeal has said, in a ruling that could have wide-ranging repercussions for employers.

The ruling came in a case brought by Unison, along with two park police officers – Maurice Vining and Stephen Francis – who had been made redundant by the London Borough of Wandsworth. In January 2013, an employment tribunal decided that not only could the two men bring unfair dismissal claims, Unison could also bring a claim for the borough’s failure to consult on the redundancies. However, in December 2015, the employment appeal tribunal decided that none of the three parties had any right to bring a claim.

Although the Court of Appeal found the two park policeman had no right to claim unfair dismissal, it also decided that, because of European human rights legislation, Unison could take action against the borough for the failure to consult on the redundancies. It added that the union could also bring a claim if the terms and conditions of contracts or the rights of their members had been affected more generally. Unison said the ruling would make it much harder to ignore unions when changes were being made in the workplace.

Prior to last Friday’s Court of Appeal ruling, employers only had to consult with unions where the law explicitly said they must – for example, in TUPE or redundancy negotiations. The decision means unions may now need to be consulted in decisions about issues such as holiday pay and working hours where it affects union members.

“The message to bosses is they will have to treat their staff more fairly over pay and working conditions,” said UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis. “If they fail to consult unions then they will be acting unlawfully and could be taken to court.”

The decision came just two days after the trade union successfully challenged the lawfulness of employment tribunal fees in the Supreme Court. The country’s top court last Wednesday unanimously decided the controversial charges, which were introduced in July 2013, were blocking access to justice, contravened EU law and were indirectly discriminatory to women.

A spokesperson for the London Borough of Wandsworth said it was “pleased” the unfair dismissal appeals from the two men had been dismissed, but added: “The court also ordered that a separate point of law issue raised by their trade union under European human rights legislation should be re-examined by the employment tribunal and we are considering our response to this.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was listed as an interested party in the case. A spokesperson from the department said: "We respect the court’s findings and are considering the judgment."

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