Where next for contracted-out workers after IWGB loses recognition case?

The small, independent IWGB union has suffered a knock back in its attempt to uplift the rights of contract workers.

In its application last year to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) for statutory union recognition with the University of London , the IWGB argued it should be able to collectively bargain on terms and conditions for its members with their effective employer, namely, the University of London and not the contractor, Cordant Security. In a linked case of the same time, the IWGB also tried through the CAC to get union recognition rights with Cordant Security.

The IWGB argued outsourced workers at the University of London should have the right to collectively bargain over pay and conditions with the institution – as it sets as the client that awards the tender or contract the financial constraints which determine what Cordant is willing to pay its workers – and denying these rights was a breach of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is part of the IWGB’s ‘Back in-House’ campaign which saw strike action by its members at the university on 21 November last year.

On 10 January 2018, the CAC published its judgements. In regard of the University of London application, it ruled that presently in law, it can only act in cases of the de jure employer and not the (alleged) de facto employer. Consequently, it stated that it is not able to widen the definitions of ‘worker’ or ‘employer’ at present and that for this to happen would require an Act of Parliament to change the law.

In the Cordant case, the CAC refused the IWGB’s application because UNISON is already recognised for bargaining for this group of workers employed by Cordant. The law which the CAC is obliged to enforce states that union recognition claims can only proceed where there is not already union recognition. The IWGB is now faced with the prospect of seeking to gain the derecognition of UNISON, which the recognition allows for providing that certain thresholds are met. The IWGB would then need to thereafter actually gain recognition (providing certain thresholds are met).

The two linked cases here present challenges for the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, for most would now rightly expect that should Labour win the next election, it will attend to these glaring inadequacies – from the point of view of workers – in the law. The first concerns that unions are able to bargain with the ‘organ grinder’ and not just ‘the monkey’ (so to speak) while the second concerns that employers can often stymie the rights of workers by granting union recognition to one particular union to prevent being forced to recognise another.

If upon winning, Labour does not act on these issues, it will not be the radical government it says it will be. But there is hope that it might address these inadequacies as the section of its 2017 general election manifesto essentially replicated many of the items – as well as the tone and spirit – of the Manifesto for Labour Law which the Institute of Employment Rights established.

  • Gregor Gall is Professor of Industrial Relations at Bradford University

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