Employees and employers can form collective groupings that are described as ‘unions’. Employer’s groupings are usually called employers’ associations. Employees also form trade unions and staff/employee associations to support each other in the workplace. Membership of a trade union or staff association can give employees more bargaining power with the employer.
The law relating to trade unions is largely governed by the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. Section 1 of the Act defines a trade union as an organisation, whether temporary or permanent which either fulfils these two conditions:
- it consists wholly or mainly of workers of one or more descriptions
- its principal purposes include the regulation of relations between workers of that description or those descriptions and employers or employers’ associations
or which consists wholly or mainly of:
- constituent or affiliated organisations which fulfil the two conditions set out above (or themselves consist wholly or mainly of constituent or affiliated organisations which fulfil those conditions)
- representatives of such constituent or affiliated organisations
The principal purposes of a trade union includes the regulation of relations between workers and employers or between workers and employers’ associations, or the regulation of relations between its constituent or affiliated organisations
Staff or Employee Associations
A staff or employee association is an association of employees which performs some of the functions of a trade union, such as representing its members in discussions with management. It may also have other social and professional purposes.
You can set up your staff association as an unincorporated association. An unincorporated association is an organisation that arises when two or more people come together for a particular purpose but decide not to use a formal structure like a company.
Most clubs, societies, associations, groups, and some syndicates are unincorporated, as are most voluntary organisations.
Unincorporated associations have greater freedom of operation than a company or a partnership. For example, there is no requirement to submit annual returns.
To form an unincorporated association, you simply put together a set of agreed rules for the management and operation of your joint activity. It is a good idea to put your rules in a comprehensive document in order to protect those who make decisions from action by those who do not.
Is an unincorporated association recognised at law?
Unlike an incorporated association an unincorporated association is not a “legal person” so it has no legal rights and is not separate from its members. Individual members are legally responsible for the acts and omissions of the entire association.
Unincorporated associations may also have trading or business objectives or carry on commercial activities.
Turning the rules into a formal constitution
A written constitution provides a record of what was agreed. Members will understand group expectations, and it can contain provision about how disagreements will be handled.
The constitution should hold information on the following;
- Management – selection and appointment of a management committee as well as their authority
- Membership – criteria or eligibility for becoming a member, and how membership ends.
- Rules – how to amend the organisation’s purposes or arrangements for conducting business.
- Meetings – setting out that there will be an Annual General Meeting (AGM) or an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of the members of the association. Decisions requiring member’s votes can be made at these meetings.
Registering your association
Unincorporated associations do not need to register with any government organisations because they are not bound by regulations. For example, they do not need to be registered at either Companies House or the Financial Services Authority.
If your unincorporated association has charitable aims, you can apply to the Charity Commission for charitable status. If you are given charitable status, you will have to comply with the Commission’s regulations. You can chose to incorporate your Staff Association later.
Contact Employee Rescue for more information on setting up a Staff Association
Employee Representative Guide for non-union workplaces
DOCUMENTS, FORMS AND LETTER TEMPLATES
Disciplinary action and capability
Discrimination at work
Best of the web
ACAS has a useful guide on Non-trade union representation in the workplace
Ask ACAS about Trade Union recognition
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