Bird & Bird wins landmark case relating to the scope of collective bargaining with trade unions

23 April 2015

Bird & Bird & First for Disputes

International law firm Bird & Bird LLP today won an important High Court ruling for one of the UK's leading leisure airlines,  In the first case on the subject, it restricts the extent of collective bargaining rights for unions. 

The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA, a pilot union) argued that it was entitled to negotiate on behalf of pilots on a wide range of contractual and non-contractual issues and in particular on its rostering arrangements. The case concerned the meaning of 'pay, hours and holidays' in the context of collective bargaining under the statutory Specified Method, which applies where employers do not have voluntary agreements in place with a union which is recognised in the workplace. BALPA also argued that had breached its legal obligations when it communicated its proposed pay rises to its pilots before the annual collective bargaining round had concluded. successfully defended its position on both issues. The Honourable Mr Justice Supperstone ruled that's collective bargaining obligations are only concerned with core contractual terms of pay, hours and holidays, which excludes most aspects of rostering.  He also determined that's collective bargaining obligations prevent it from varying pay before discussing it with the union.  This does not prevent it from communicating directly in advance with its pilots about future proposed pay increases.

This case will provide more flexibility to businesses that wish to keep union involvement in their operations to a minimum.  Many employers choose to have wide ranging voluntary collective bargaining arrangements with unions.  This decision could give those employers the opportunity to reassess those arrangements, and place them in a stronger position to renegotiate the scope of the arrangements.

Commenting on the case, Elizabeth Lang, partner in Bird & Bird's Employment Group, said:  "This decision clarifies the extent of collective bargaining obligations for employers who recognise unions but do not have voluntary arrangements in place.  It will limit the matters which may be proposed by unions for negotiation and give unionised employers more scope in their communications with employees".