IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The ‘game changer’ judgment
Unite Supreme Court collective bargaining win – an ‘historic legal judgment’
Thanks to Unite winning a key legal fight involving 60 members, a legal precedent has been set which will potentially make a difference to trade union members everywhere. Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said the legal victory means no employer can ever offer their employees inducements to undermine union collective bargaining. The Unite leader says union members have been resolute in their six-year battle to defend union rights: Their victory will affect union members everywhere across the UK. On October 27, 2021, the Supreme Court found in favour of a group of Unite members whose employer, Kostal Ltd – a car components manufacturer from Rotherham – had sought to undermine their union negotiations by offering unlawful inducements to undermine a union ballot rejecting a pay offer. The original dispute involved around 60 union members at Kostal. Back in February 2015, Kostal and Unite signed a union recognition agreement. In October that year, the next round of wage negotiations began and resulted in a formal union ballot of members, in which 80 per cent voted against the offer. The company then wrote directly to union members and urged them to accept their offer individually or lose a Christmas bonus – worth £270. The workers also had to accept changes to their employment conditions.
And in January 2016, the offer was again repeated but this time it was coupled with the sinister threat of dismissal if workers did not accept it. Over the next two years, the union won two employment tribunals which ruled that both Kostal offers amounted to ‘unlawful inducements’, contrary to section 145(b) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. Unite members were awarded over £420,000 in compensation. But In June 2019, these findings were overturned at the Court of Appeal. And now thanks to the tenacity of Unite and its members the October 27 judgment finally overturns the Court of Appeal judgment and finds in favour of the union’s case that Kostal had breached the 1992 Trade Union Act by offering unlawful inducements.
“With the support of their union the workers stood firm,” said Unite general secretary Sharon Graham. “Now they have won an historic case that creates a legal precedent for every union member across the UK. It means that employers cannot subvert or by-pass union collective bargaining processes by offering their workforces inducements of one type of another to abandon union mandates. That is momentous. “This judgment is a game changer. It means that employers cannot ignore legally established collective bargaining rights just because they suddenly choose to ignore them or subvert them. Every worker should realise now that it’s in their interest to be a union member.” The judgment handed down means that the workers involved will each receive a compensation payment of around £8,000. Unite national officer Simon Coop, who was involved in the original dispute and the years of legal action, was delighted with the result. He said, “Justice has been done at last. It is actually a vindication of Unite’s reps system, which ensured all the union members stuck together through thick and thin.”
On legal landmark
"‘[The members] have won an historic case that creates a legal precedent for every union member across the UK. It means that employers cannot subvert or by-pass union collective bargaining processes by offering their workforces inducements of one type of another to abandon union mandates. That is momentous"
Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary
By Amanda Campbell